Microsoft takes retail market fight into Asia

Software giant challenges rivals with plans for own branded stores in Hong Kong and on the mainland to engage directly with consumers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 3:32am

Microsoft, the world's largest software company, plans to expand its network of branded retail stores into Hong Kong - which would be its first in Asia - and the mainland.

That initiative would put Microsoft in head-to-head competition against Apple, which has established some of its most lucrative branded retail shops at 11 locations in the two markets.

Ralph Haupter, the chairman and chief executive of Microsoft Greater China, said: "We really want to go to the next step, and start branding the end-to-end experience that users have with premium devices from OEMs and obviously, our own."

Microsoft started last year its transition into a devices-and-services company, creating a budding new rivalry with Apple, Google and Amazon.

While strategic partner Nokia makes smartphones based on the Windows Phone 8 operating system, Microsoft has released its own line of media tablets. There are 15 original equipment manufacturers that run Windows 8 on their smart devices, including Lenovo, Dell, Acer and Asus.

Microsoft has opened 78 branded retail stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Apple, in contrast, has 406 branded stores worldwide.

"There should be no doubt that Hong Kong deserves a Microsoft store," Haupter said. "The mainland deserves to have a Microsoft store as well."

He declined to provide details on investment, location or opening date, but simply acknowledged that the company was "working on it".

"Our priority is not speed. Our priority is the right quality for consumers," he said.

Haupter pointed out that Microsoft had already set up "a sort of Windows experience zone" inside PCCW-HKT Stores, which allow consumers to test and inquire on how to use Windows 8-based personal computers, smartphones and tablets.

Microsoft launched its first-ever branded retail store in October 2009 in Arizona. It marked a major step to engage more directly with consumers, and improve their experience of buying and using Microsoft-based technology.

Kitty Fok, the general manager for China of technology research firm IDC, said any proposed Microsoft store in Hong Kong or on the mainland "should focus more on helping consumers understand the benefits of using Windows devices" at home or at work.

Fok said that it was "more important to influence the opinion of shoppers", who might otherwise think that the new touchscreen-capable Windows 8 platform was complicated to use.

Stephen Chau Kam-kun, the chief technology officer at mobile network operator SmarTone Telecommunications, said the success of opening a Microsoft store in Hong Kong "will largely depend on how well they execute it" in terms of educating consumers.