Microsoft’s eagerly awaited Surface with Windows 8 Pro tablet went on sale in the United States and Canada Saturday as scheduled, despite a massive snowstorm that shut down much of New England and New York. But the 128GB version of the device sold out almost immediately, both online and at retail locations, and many reported that Microsoft’s retailing partners, Best Buy and Staples, ordered only tiny numbers of the devices, further frustrating would-be buyers.
Those who showed up at Microsoft Store retail locations, however, often reported lines of customers hundreds-deep, and those locations clearly had enough stock—including the 128GB version—to satisfy much of the demand.
But many questions remain. Why did Best Buy and Staples order so few of the devices? And how could Microsoft’s online store be “out of stock”? Wouldn’t the company simply continue to take orders and then deliver them when the stock arrived, as Apple does?
The anti-Microsoft cabal was out in force over the weekend, trying to quickly quell any reports of Microsoft success, however small. On Twitter, blogs, and websites, and in online forums and Comments sections, these ne’ver-do-wells with too much time on their hands sought to undermine the hype of the Surface Pro launch with a blistering array of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. (See also "Surface Pro Sniping.")
But these critics were able to make one valid point: Aside from Microsoft’s own stores, many retailers received few if any Surface Pro devices. So the “sell out” was of a relatively small number of units.
At Microsoft Stores, however, the story was often quite different, and we have the photos to prove it: Long lines queued throughout malls and outside standalone Microsoft Store locations, with eager customers waiting to buy up the hundreds of Surface Pro devices that were available at each location.
In a post to the new Surface Blog on Saturday, Surface lead Panos Panay noted the strong demand for the Surface Pro and said that Microsoft was racing to keep the devices in stock. “Customer response to the launch of Surface Pro has been amazing,” he wrote. “We’re working with our retail partners who are currently out of stock of the 128GB Surface Pro to replenish supplies as quickly as possible. Our priority is to ensure that every customer gets their new Surface Pro as soon as possible.”
It’s particularly unclear why Microsoft’s online store can’t simply have a waiting list so that customers can order a device and have it delivered when possible. This is what Apple does, and that company’s fans—a crowd that makes up a huge percentage of the anti-Microsoft cabal noted above—regularly delight in these waiting times as further proof of their favorite company’s successes.
Certainly, Microsoft is still new to the retail game, and when you combine this lack of maturity with its new efforts in selling PCs, some birthing issues arrive. But one would think that the firm would have overcome these types of issues during the previous Surface launch, Surface with Windows RT, which started selling last October.
Looked at objectively, the Surface Pro launch is typical of Microsoft these days, alternatively delighting those customers who purchased what they wanted and disappointing those who could not, whatever the reason. Maybe someday the company will simply get it right. But for now, we’re going to have to chalk this up to yet another learning experience.