Microsoft on Thursday hired a former Wal-Mart executive to open a chain of shops, establishing another front with Apple in the battle for consumers.
The move is an echo of a shift into retail by Apple this decade that has added to its sales, though analysts warned that it involved risks.
“To open their own stores is a big about-face,” said Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner. Microsoft would “definitely incur some ill-will” from electronics that stocked its products, he added, though: “It’s not like the retailers can say, ‘We’re not going to carry your stuff any more.’”
Efforts by other companies to establish a high street presence have often foundered because of a lack of experience, though Mr Baker said Microsoft’s decision to hire a retail expert should minimise the risk.
The number of shops to be opened and the range of products they should carry would not be decided until later, Microsoft said.
The hiring of David Porter, a Wal-Mart veteran who has spent the past two years at Dreamworks, is the latest sign of an upheaval in Microsoft’s senior ranks and organisation as it tries to break into more markets.
Mr Porter will report to Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s operating chief and a former Wal-Mart executive. That puts him outside Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division, which until now has managed its retail initiatives, such as a plan to create “stores within a store” inside electronics retailers.
Microsoft said its aim was to create “better PC and Microsoft retail purchase experience for consumers worldwide through the development and opening of the company’s own retail stores”.
In a statement, Mr Turner said the aim was to “transform the PC and Microsoft buying experience at retail by improving the articulation and demonstration of the Microsoft innovation and value proposition so that it’s clear, simple and straightforward for consumers everywhere”.
The stores would be a showcase for products including the Windows 7 operating system, Windows Live internet services and Windows Mobile software, he added.
They might just sell software products and have demonstration centres [for hardware], Mr Baker said. “They may end up being more like Sony stores, which promote the products but sell very little.”