The rivalry between Apple and Microsoft is about to heat up in Maine, with a Microsoft Store opening Saturday at the Maine Mall in South Portland.
The first Microsoft Store in Maine is part of a strategy that company officials unveiled in 2009 to open retail outlets as close as possible to Apple Stores. The two stores at the Maine Mall are about 75 yards apart.
Since 2009, Microsoft has opened 87 stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, said a spokeswoman for Microsoft, Alexis Cummings of the New York-based public relations firm Assembly. By the end of this month, there will be 93 stores, she said.
That’s still a far cry from Apple’s 254 U.S. stores and 424 retail outlets worldwide, but analysts say Microsoft Stores could contribute significantly to boosting sales of the company’s products.
Apple officials did not respond to requests for comment on whether they regard the proliferation of Microsoft Stores as a serious threat.
The technology giants have faced off in Maine in the past.
Last year, Apple lost an exclusive contract to provide MacBooks to middle schools in Maine as part of a school laptop program that began in 2002. Now, schools can choose whether to buy Apple or Windows-installed laptops.
Still, when it comes to the companies’ retail stores, Microsoft is unlikely to unseat Apple as the top seller in the Maine Mall.
Apple Stores are by far the most successful retail outlets today, said Horace Dediu, a tech-industry analyst with Asymco, which specializes in covering Apple’s business strategy.
In annual retail sales per square foot, Apple does more than twice the business of the runner-up, jeweler Tiffany & Co., Dediu said in a blog post. Its sales per square foot exceeded $6,000 in 2012. The average for mall retailers is about $400 per square foot annually, he said.
Apple’s sales are “more than seven times the median of the top 20, and 17 times better than the average mall retail space,” Dediu said.
Microsoft Stores weren’t among the 20 best performers in 2012, Dediu said. Still, by emulating Apple’s strategy the company is likely to see in-store sales continue to rise, especially as it opens more stores and adds more Microsoft-branded products to its inventory, PCMag.com analyst John C. Dvorak said in a recent column.
“Microsoft has to have more things to sell and it knows that,” Dvorak said. “That is why it will be opening stores and releasing new products like never before.”
Several bloggers and analysts have accused Microsoft of copying the Apple Store’s layout and business model. Microsoft’s Maine Mall store differs in some ways from its nearby competitor.
Unlike the Apple Store, it is in the center of the mall, like a permanent kiosk, rather than in a typical retail space. It is one of 30 such kiosks nationwide that Microsoft calls “specialty stores.” The company has larger, traditional storefronts in bigger markets.
Products available at the Microsoft Store include Xbox One consoles and games, Windows phones, Surface tablets, Windows 8.1 PCs and software such as Microsoft Office 365. Unlike Apple, it sells some products that are produced by other manufacturers, including Dell and Lenovo.
The store also has stations where people can try out Xbox One games on big-screen TVs.
Dan Wigley, the store manager at Microsoft’s Maine Mall location, said store employees will be able to answer technical questions about Microsoft products and help customers with purchases. That service mirrors the Apple Store’s “Genius Bar.”
“They can answer questions (about Microsoft products),” Wigley said. “That’s kind of what we’re here for.”
The store will open at 10 a.m. Saturday. The first customers to line up on Saturday will be eligible for one-day-only deals on Surface and Dell tablets, Wigley said. They will be able to buy a Surface 32GB tablet for $199 or a Dell Venue 8 Pro 32GB for $99, he said.
Wigley said South Portland is a logical choice for the company’s retail expansion, since the next-closest Microsoft Store is in New Hampshire.
“We felt that Maine was a great location to drop a store into,” he said. “We’re happy to be here.”
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at: