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Microsoft to open its own retail stores

A decade after its first attempt at retail, Microsoft is trying anew as it works to gain greater control over the image of its products and how people buy them.

The company announced Thursday it will open its own branded retail stores – selling its software and hardware, such as the Xbox 360 game console – though it didn’t specify where or when.

A spokeswoman said via e-mail that the company is targeting “a small number of high-profile experience stores in a few major cities around the world.”

The effort immediately drew comparisons to Apple’s iconic retail stores, which have helped the Cupertino, Calif., company grow its share of the U.S. personal-computer market.

Microsoft’s move into retail, which Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner described in a statement as “long-term,” comes six months after it launched a broad marketing campaign for Windows, its flagship operating system brand.

In addition to quirky commercials starring Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, the campaign included efforts to work with retailers and computer makers to improve the experience of buying Windows PCs.

“They want to have more control over how end users are going to view Microsoft products,” said Matt Rosoff, research vice president at Kirkland-based Directions on Microsoft, an independent analyst firm.

Rosoff said the marketing campaign, particularly its retail elements, was not getting the kind of traction Microsoft desired. The weak economy and one of the worst consumer-spending environments in memory haven’t helped.

As part of recent efforts, Microsoft launched store-within-a-store concepts at Best Buy and Circuit City, though the latter has gone bankrupt and is being liquidated. Microsoft created a corps of “Microsoft Gurus,” borrowing from Nordstrom’s personal-shopper concept, to help people select specific products to suit their needs.

It also built a “Retail Experience Center” – a prototype store on its Redmond campus – to study PC buying and test new concepts.

The new retail stores will expand on these efforts “to create deeper engagement with consumers and continue to learn firsthand about what they want and how they buy,” Microsoft said in a statement.

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