Microsoft is getting into the retail business. The company announced today that it’s hired David Porter, a 25-year Wal-Mart vet, as vice president of retail stores. He will head up Microsoft’s “efforts to create a better PC and Microsoft retail purchase experience” through its own stores.
This is a risky move. Microsoft (MSFT) will be competing with its vast retail channel, which ranges from Best Buy (BBY) to Costco (COST). And last we checked, the retail industry is in the garbage. Even Apple is suffering.
If done right, Microsoft might be able to show consumers the benefits (if any) of having a Windows computer, Xbox 360, Windows Mobile phone, and Zune, all in one place. At very least, they could do a better job than Best Buy at showing off PCs. (We’re not sure how well the gurus Microsoft hired last fall to do that at other big-box stores worked out.)
Conceivably, they might convince more people to buy PCs — or at least to buy newer PCs with Windows 7.
But Porter will have to work magic to get people into a Microsoft store — the “big-arse table” Surface computer won’t be enough. Even Sony’s (SNE) retail chain, packed with PlayStations and whiz-bang digital gadgets, fizzled out. Nokia’s (NOK) small chain of U.S. stores hasn’t done much to improve its market share here. Palm (PALM) shuttered its retail stores last year. And don’t get us started thinking about Gateway stores.
If anything, Porter will have to out-Apple Apple (AAPL), whose minimalist, fun retail stores have helped drive sales and market share — at Microsoft’s expense. His pedigree won’t hurt — a few years at DreamWorks after 25 years at Wal-Mart (WMT), where he was an entertainment merchandise manager. (Apple took a similar strategy, hiring its retail boss Ron Johnson away from Target in 2000.)