Microsoft hires ex-Wal-Mart exec to open stores

Microsoft has hired a former Wal-Mart Store executive, David Porter, to help the company open its own retail stores, in a move that apes Apple's retail strategy, according to the report in The Wall Street Journal 

Apple opened its first stores in 2001, amid deep skepticism about its strategy. Now it has more than 200 carefully designed, uncluttered stores around the world, with highly trained staff and "˜genius bars' that provide technical support.

In a statement, Microsoft said Porter's first priority will be to define where to place a small number of Microsoft stores and when to open  them.

Apparently Microsoft has created mockups for how its products might be displayed either in its own stores or in a retailer's in a warehouse near its Redmond, Washington, campus.

As the Journal wryly notes, it remains to be seen whether the move can inject some fizz into Microsoft's unfashionable image, which Apple has reinforced with ads that mock its competitor. Porter said there are 'tremendous opportunities' for Microsoft to create a 'world-class shopping experience'.

The Journal also notes that the move is a sign of the deeper role consumer-technology companies are playing in the retail business, despite the many risks of straying from their traditional businesses of making hardware and software.

A spokeswoman for Hewlett-Packard, one of Microsoft's biggest hardware partners in the PC business, declined to comment to the Journal about Microsoft's retail strategy. Spokesmen for Dell Inc. didn't respond to requests for comment either.

Microsoft's store plans also risk upsetting retail partners like Best Buy on which Microsoft is dependent for sales to consumers. Best Buy representatives didn't return calls requesting comment.

Microsoft operated a Microsoft store inside a movie-theater complex in San Francisco beginning in 1999, but two years later shut down the store, which showcased, but didn't sell, Microsoft products.