On selling out Surface Pro

By Kip Kniskern | In Opinion | Posted February 9, 2013 14 comments

Microsoft_Surface_ProToday, the Microsoft Surface Pro went on sale for the first time, and depending on what you read, it’s already “sold out”.  The 128GB version is currently “out of stock” at microsoftstore.com (the 64GB model doesn’t have the same “out of stock” tag, currently, although apparently it did for a time today).  Best Buy is currently out of stock, as is Staples.

While it is good news that some Surface Pros are selling, there is a fine line between consumer interest and marketing manipulation, and being “sold out” is almost a meaningless term unless we know how many Surfaces were available for sale, and the short answer to that appears to be “not many”.

A number of reports have said that Best Buy employees had reported only 1 – 3 Surface units ready for sale, and in trying to track down a 64GB unit I just called a local Staples store that was listed on their website as having “low stock”.  They were sold out, and when I asked the salesperson how many they had sold today, she said “two”.

Our friend PicturePan2 from LiveSino.net will be here for the Microsoft MVP Summit next week and is planning to buy a Surface Pro 64GB, and so he has been following Surface Pro’s availability quite closely.  When he saw reports that the Surface Pro had sold out, he fired off a quick post on Weibo (China’s Twitter), and got a reply from a “Microsoft China Strategic Director”, saying (with apologies for the less than perfect Microsoft Translation):

Heard that supply very nervous, Seattle Microsoft Store stock up only 400 units.

 

Anecdotal, to be sure, but interesting coming from a Microsoft executive and perceivably not too far off the mark.

To Microsoft’s credit, if they have been trying to create a bit of buzz around the Surface Pro launch by offering only a few Surface Pros for sale and then shouting “Sold Out!” from the rooftops, well, it appears to be working.  Shortly after the first reports of a sellout of the 128GB model, I quickly counted 8 separate stories in my Google Reader timeline repeating the news.  A post by “Ron” at WinBeta.com is riding in the fourth spot on Techmeme right now, with 20 related posts, and WinBeta has posted another somewhat breathlessly titled post, reporting that Microsoft issues a statement on 128GB Surface Pro out of stock crisis, is working to “replenish supplies”.

To be fair, not everyone is taking the “sellout” at face value.  Alex Wilhelm at The Next Web implores us to “relax”, and Matthew Miller at ZDNet, while calling out Microsoft for “blowing” the launch, did end up getting a 128GB Surface Pro, and had actual good things to say about Best Buy and Staple’s customer service.

If you remember, much the same thing happened with the Surface RT launch, and even though there was lots of initial talk of “sellouts”, RT has reportedly yet to break a million in sales, some three months out.

So without any Surface Pros left to buy today, we’re left with questions: did Microsoft “sell out” as many Surface Pros as they possibly could sell today?  And how many was that?  Is this a case of Microsoft not being able to produce enough devices to satisfy the market?  Do they just not have any idea how many they might sell?  Or, as it appears to us, is this a marketing ploy pure and simple, designed to create a buzz?

Even with the buzz creation effects, at the rate that Microsoft sells consumer devices, which is to say slowly if at all, we’re not sure that running out of Surface Pros on the first day with people lined up to buy them is a winning strategy.

Posted February 9th, 2013 at 4:32 pm
Category: Opinion
Tags: Surface
  • Asok Asus

    “Do they just not have any idea how many they might sell?”

    Yeah, I can just see the discussion at Microsoft World Headquarters:

    “Gee, we just spent four billion dollars designing and manufacturing this thing and a billion dollars advertising it,;how many should be ship to each store for the GRAND OPENING?”

    “Oh, I don’t know. One or two?”

    “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

    (BTW, anybody want to bet that suddenly a virtually unlimited number of Surface Pros will be available within a couple of days?)

  • Asok Asus

    “Do they just not have any idea how many they might sell?”

    Yeah, I can just see the discussion at Microsoft World Headquarters:

    “Gee, we just spent four billion dollars designing and manufacturing this thing and a billion dollars advertising it,;how many should be ship to each store for the GRAND OPENING?”

    “Oh, I don’t know. One or two?”

    “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

    (BTW, anybody want to bet that suddenly a virtually unlimited number of Surface Pros will be available within a couple of days?)

  • http://twitter.com/surilamin surilamin

    Lets circle the wagons for the once and cut Microsoft some slack. The only experience Microsoft has had in dealing with something like this is selling the SurfaceRT. And they did fix the problems that people experienced from ordering online last time around (missing shipping dates, no updates on placed orders, etc). This is the first time they have distributed the Surface to other retailers and Microsoft is just now being able properly gauge demand. Heck, if you were to read some of the early Surface Pro reviews, you would think nobody wanted one. In a few days there will be more stock of the 128gb Surface Pro and everybody will be happy.

    • damaster

      Whilst I agree that it’s the first time they’re selling PCs themselves, but perhaps they could borrow some ideas from the Xbox division who has sold millions of Xbox 360s, with equally or greater demand at times than the Surface.

      • http://twitter.com/surilamin surilamin

        Hmm, good point, didn’t really cross my mind. But I do not think Microsoft is willing to lose money on the Surface like they did with xbox, and this might explain why they were conservative and did not want to create too much inventory. Plus Microsoft is playing an odd balancing act with the OEMs which explains some of their illogical decisions.

  • http://twitter.com/surilamin surilamin

    Lets circle the wagons for the once and cut Microsoft some slack. The only experience Microsoft has had in dealing with something like this is selling the SurfaceRT. And they did fix the problems that people experienced from ordering online last time around (missing shipping dates, no updates on placed orders, etc). This is the first time they have distributed the Surface to other retailers and Microsoft is just now being able properly gauge demand. Heck, if you were to read some of the early Surface Pro reviews, you would think nobody wanted one. In a few days there will be more stock of the 128gb Surface Pro and everybody will be happy.

    • damaster

      Whilst I agree that it’s the first time they’re selling PCs themselves, but perhaps they could borrow some ideas from the Xbox division who has sold millions of Xbox 360s, with equally or greater demand at times than the Surface.

      • http://twitter.com/surilamin surilamin

        Hmm, good point, didn’t really cross my mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1491033788 Nathan Castle

    People need to face the facts and accept the fact that the Surface Pro is not a piece of consumer hardware, and I really doubt that Microsoft wants it to gain any traction, and risk overtaking the RT. After all, what consumer wants a tablet with four hour battery life, the risk of viruses and spyware, performance that is terrible after a year (because consumers are terrible at keeping Windows working), and no built in Microsoft Office? The Pro is for those sad, poor souls that are stuck using legacy, touch-unfriendly x86 apps, and those people that need an active digitizer. The Surface Pro is the compromised tablet, the RT is not. Use an RT for a few months and you will see why most x86 software is unnecessary, and you can probably get better performance than the pro by remoting in to your desktop if you have some programming or legacy application needs. Also, make no mistake, desktop software is legacy software. Microsoft should just kill it already.

    • Travis Pope

      Whoa whoa whoa. First, x86 apps aren’t unnecessary. THE WORLD runs on x86 applications. Period. End of Discussion. People want a Surface Pro because it’s the closest thing to a Microsoft built experience running an application platform that has already matured. to say that “Surface Pro is a compromised tablet” but insist that Surface RT isn’t is about the craziest thing I’ve read all day -and before this I was perusing OMG’s comments section. The last time I checked, the definition of an compromised tablet is one with no applications, which seems to be the odd position Surface RT is in at the moment.

    • TJKan

      Who’s gonna design the car you drive and the building you live in? Think big, there is always a need for legacy software. It’s easy to say you don’t need it for yourself, when you’re living in a world that was designed and built by those who use it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1491033788 Nathan Castle

    People need to face the facts and accept the fact that the Surface Pro is not a piece of consumer hardware, and I really doubt that Microsoft wants it to gain any traction, and risk overtaking the RT. After all, what consumer wants a tablet with four hour battery life, the risk of viruses and spyware, performance that is terrible after a year (because consumers are terrible at keeping Windows working), and no built in Microsoft Office? The Pro is for those sad, poor souls that are stuck using legacy, touch-unfriendly x86 apps, and those people that need an active digitizer. The Surface Pro is the compromised tablet, the RT is not. Use an RT for a few months and you will see why most x86 software is unnecessary, and you can probably get better performance than the pro by remoting in to your desktop if you have some programming or legacy application needs. Also, make no mistake, desktop software is legacy software. Microsoft should just kill it already.

    • http://twitter.com/harlemS Travis Pope

      Whoa whoa whoa. First, x86 apps aren’t unnecessary. THE WORLD runs on x86 applications. Period. End of Discussion. People want a Surface Pro because it’s the closest thing to a Microsoft built experience running an application platform that has already matured. to say that “Surface Pro is a compromised tablet” but insist that Surface RT isn’t is about the craziest thing I’ve read all day -and before this I was perusing OMG’s comments section. The last time I checked, the definition of an compromised tablet is one with no applications, which seems to be the odd position Surface RT is in at the moment.

    • TJKan

      Who’s gonna design the car you drive and the building you live in? Think big, there is always a need for legacy software. It’s easy to say you don’t need it for yourself, when you’re living in a world that was designed and built by those who use it.