Windows 8: Tepid Marketing–>Slow Sales

by Steve Wildstrom   |   November 21st, 2012

Win 8 display at Microcenter

Kind of sad, isn’t it? This sorry attempt at a festive display of new PCs at a Micro Center store in Rockville, MD, says a lot about the thud with which Windows 8 seems to have landed.

Windows guru Paul Thurrott recently reported that Win 8 sales are running below Microsoft’s expectations. Microsoft executives, Thurrott says, put much of the blame on OEM partners for being late to market with exciting hardware. But much of the problem may be closer to home. Neither Microsoft nor its retail partners seem to be making all that great an effort to sell new systems, especially compared to past efforts.

This week, I stopped by several big box retailers, the sort that generate most of the sales of Windows PCs, and what I saw was dispiriting. Instead of the end caps, banners, ceiling-high stacks of boxed software, and the occasional brass band that accompanied past Windows launches, I saw a distinctly low key effort. Windows 8 has only a modest presence on TV–most of Microsoft’s ad buy is dedicated to Surface, which is sold only online and in Microsoft’s own sparse retail outlets–and I saw no sign of any Microsoft promotional effort at my local Best Buy, Staples, Microcenter, or H.H. Gregg. In fact, the display below, at Staples, was about as flashy as it got:

Now it is a fact of life in retailing that vendors literally get what they pay for in terms of shelf position, end-cap displays, store advertising, and other promotion. It appears Microsoft isn’t paying much this time around. It doesn’t help that Microsoft is not, at least at this point, selling Windows 8 as physical media, so there are no in-store displays of the software itself. Still, it’s telling that Windows is missing from this row of promotional posters at the Micro Center entrance:

Micro Center poster display

On the shelves, things are just as bad. The main selling point for Windows 8 is touch, but most of the new touch models have yet to come to market. Laptops are generally grouped by price, sometimes by size. In no case did I see touch models grouped together or in any way featured. Best Buy at least had little tags on some non-touch models proclaiming their lack of touch screens, but otherwise, you had to figure it out for yourself, either by reading the detailed product descriptions or by touching the screen and seeing whether anything happened. (A clue: If it costs less than $1,000, it probably doesn’t has a touch screen.) In most stores, there are some Windows 7 machines mixed in among the newer models, and I wouldn’t be surprised if few shoppers managed to figure out just what was supposed to be superior about Windows 8.

Unless Microsoft is going to open a whole lot more of its own stores (there is only one full-fledged Microsoft Store in the Washington area–in Arlington, Va.,–and just two pop-up stores, really glorified mall kiosks, in the entire state of Maryland), it should work with OEMs and retailers to do something to improve a horrible shopping experience. Most of the machines I saw on shelves made it impossible to get any sort of meaningful Windows 8 experience. Many of the machines were dead, or were locked into demo screen shows. Of those that were running Windows 8, almost none were both connected to the internet and linked to a Microsoft account, two features necessary to understanding what the new OS is all about. And while I understand the need of retailers to keep stock from walking off, their approach to theft prevention is lethal to sales. For example, it’s impossible to get a real sense of the sleekness of this Hewlett-Packard Spectre XT Ultrabrook at Staples with that horrible anti-theft clamp and cable device on its side:

HP Spectre

 

Even worse was a similar clamp (at Best Buy) that prevented a Lenovo Yoga convertible notebook/tablet from going through its agile tricks.

I only ran into one true Windows tablet in my shopping tour, a $600 Asus Vivo Tab RT. To my complete lack of surprise, the display was free of any information on the differences between its Windows RT software and the full Windows 8 on the systems surrounding it, another bit of consumer education that Microsoft is sorely ignoring.

 

 

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Rich

    Steve, given how important Windows 8 presumably is to Microsoft, do you know why they’re not pushing it more aggressively?

    • steve_wildstrom

      If I had to guess, I’d say its because the best Windows 8 devices, either notebooks or tablets, have not come to market yet. For example, there are really interesting announced products, like the HP Envy X2 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch, that haven’t shipped. Of course, that just raises the question of why Microsoft didn’t coordinate things better with OEMs, and I think the answer to that is that the OEMs did not have enough time to work with Intel’s new parts to make Microsoft’s schedule. Even Microsoft has not given a precise date for shipment of the Surface Pro. A screw up all around.

      I would not be surprised to see Microsoft do a splashier Windows 8 relaunch early next year.

      • Alfiejr

        yes, after they bring back the Start button.

        actually next year they will have to relaunch Windows 7 first, just to salvage PC sales after this W8 debacle – worse than Vista. it’s a dog.

        • FalKirk

          Microsoft cannot afford another Vista and they cannot wait another year to make a splash in tablets and phones. Unlike with Vista, people now have alternatives. They can go to the Mac at the high end and tablets at the low end.

          • Alfiejr

            agreed about the new choices. but W7 fixed Vista, and W8.5 can fix W8. MS will lose a chunk of users in the meantime, but can still keep most – if they hurry up. which Sinofsky likely was resisting (“give it a chance”).

            but as to portables, MS is just too late. that’s over, the train left the station, bye bye. MS can never gain more than a portable market niche – probably as an XBox media ecosystem accessory mainly. Android smartphones are the new Symbian mass market feature phones of the world, and Apple’s the premium brand. MS (+Nokia) and RIM are left in the forever wannabe zone. RIM and Nokia won’t even survive as independent companies.

      • http://www.facebook.com/donald.m.kraig Donald Michael Kraig

        I respectfully disagree. Microsoft does a great deal of testing. As the recently released videos of consumers testing Kin phones reveals, Microsoft knew it had garbage, released it anyway, but didn’t do their normal all-out marketing. The same is true for Windows 8. They felt they had to release something, but they don’t have to put more good money in after bad. Sinofsky is going to be the fall guy for yet another Microsoft disaster, but the real problem is Ballmer.

        • Alfiejr

          yup. Sinofsky had to go. because i suspect he refused to make any significant changes to W8 to salvage the situation. MS knows they have a dog and that major changes are necessary. they will wait until January to say anything about it tho, to try to avoid a “crisis” atmosphere.

          • FalKirk

            “Sinofsky had to go. because i suspect he refused to make any significant changes to W8…” – Alfiejr

            I’ve been holding my thoughts on Sinofsky until more facts become available. But I feel very sure that all of the major decisions – the ones that may come back to haunt Microsoft – were done with Ballmer’s and the board’s full approval. Sinofsky may end up being the scapegoat but he shouldn’t be held fully responsible.

      • Rich

        The more I see of Windows 8 and the Surface – both the conception of them and the introduction of them – the less I’m impressed.

        I’m not going to say Microsoft has lost the consumer market but they’ve made a poor start, which is something they don’t need at all.

        And as far as the enterprise goes, if Windows 7 is getting the job done and avoids a difficult transition to a weird new OS, why would IT departments pick up Windows 8?

  • Defendor

    IMO the first step in good marketing is to have the right product. This is the crucial step that Microsoft bungled.

    They have at best what can generously be described as a poor product delineation strategy between Windows 8/RT (I would say borderline incoherent).
    It is hard to have a marketing strategy, when you really don’t have a product strategy.

    Other than that, I seem to be inundated with Microsoft advertisements that are dominating my airwaves. Half are surface, half are the Win8: Everything at once spots. It is clearly a massive ad spend.

    So I disagree that they are not making an effort. It is just that they have a confused effort base on a confused product.

  • Fantasm

    I saw a listing for Windows 8 listed on the Pirate Bay…
    There were only 14 people downloading or seeding it…
    It’s so bad, not even the pirates can be bothered….

    • WP7Mango

      The price is so low that pirates can’t be bothered. That’s the whole point!

      • Fantasm

        Ummm The pirate bay also has quite a few programs that are free or low priced as well… The big problem is that not too many really want Wndows 8, at free or for low price… I’d rather spend the money on a case of beer and stick with windows 7

  • Jurassic

    When all else fails… try balloons ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1208359380 Les Kern

    From Steve Balmer speaking about the Microsoft kiosks: “For the love of GOD don’t actually let them try out Windows 8 before they buy!”