Microsoft Surface Pro Fire Sale Begins

1-SurfaceMicrosoft Corp. is doing it again: dropping the price of its poor-selling tablet — this time the Surface Pro.

Over the weekend, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro will be discounted $100 on its two standard models, bringing the price of the 64GB to $799 and the 128GB to $899. Accessories still cost extra, and the reduced price is only through the end of August, for now.

The price cut comes a month after Microsoft dropped the price of its unpopular Surface RT tablets by $150. The lowest price version now costs as little as $349.

The Surface price cuts come after Microsoft wrote off $900 million in unsold inventory and accessories related to the tablet.

Microsoft is under heavy criticism from the channel over its Surface strategy. Only recently has the company allowed  a handful of channel partners — mostly direct market resellers — the right to resell Surface. Microsoft executives say Surface will eventually make its way into the broader channel, but won’t give a timeline for when that will happen.

Some analysts and partners says Microsoft’s failure to engage its massive worldwide channel in supporting Surface is a large part of the reason behind the low sales numbers.

Microsoft isn’t releasing sales numbers, but analysts suspect it has only sold 1.5 million of its tablets since they debuted last October. Comparatively, Apple has sold 57.5 million iPads during the same period.

The larger question is whether the price cuts are a prelude to the release of the next generation of Surface, a means through which Microsoft is looking to buy market share, or recognition that Microsoft can’t compete in the tablet market against the entrenched market leaders.

Microsoft says the price cuts are a stimulus for the busy “back to school” shopping season. Rather than having iPad Minis and Android-powered Samsung tablets in student backpacks, Microsoft wants Surface.

Despite Microsoft’s official rational, there may be larger problems looming. Microsoft may be trying to get into the tablet party when the club is closing.

Consider this: Apple set a record for iPad sales during the 2012 holiday quarter, when it sold a monster 23.5 million units. Most of those sales were of the iPad Mini, the popular smaller version of the iPad. Since then, iPad sales have fallen. In the most recent quarter (April to June), Apple reported iPad sales fell 20 percent to 14.5 million units. It was the second straight quarter of declining sales.

The picture materializing is one of Microsoft trying to play the disruptor to a market that has already decided the winners and is marching toward commoditization. The only way Microsoft can compete is through price cuts.

The other possibility: The Surface simply isn’t a good machine. While Microsoft calls Windows 8 an innovative platform built for the touch-driven interface world, users have largely rejected the operating system. Traditional Windows users don’t like the limitations on how they operate, and new users find the interface clunky compared to iOS and Andriod.

If it’s a user-preference issue impeding Microsoft Surface sales, the price cuts are similar to the Hewlett-Packard TouchPad in 2011. After just six weeks on the market, the WebOS-powered TouchPad was declared a flop. No one was buying, and retailers wanted it out of their warehouses. HP discontinued the tablet and reduced the price from $499 to $99 to clear the loading docks.

More ominous for Microsoft: the lingering impact. While HP was suffering from significant issues long before TouchPad, the abrupt change and the confidence shock rattled the company so badly, it’s still trying to recover.

While Microsoft is cutting Surface prices, it’s not saying how this will impact partner sales. As DMRs are just now able to sell Surface, it’s unclear how the reduction will affect their margins and motivation.



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4 Responses to “Microsoft Surface Pro Fire Sale Begins”

  • Andrew:

    Australian IT reseller here. Like many others, we are highly disappointed in the selling strategy of Microsoft here. We are still fielding regular inquiries from our corporate clients on the Surface Pro, and as we’ve been doing since it’s release we are strongly advising them on alternate competing products, and against the Surface Pro. We simply cannot advise purchasing devices we cannot sell.
    Looking forward to being able to sell the Surface Pro like we already do in high volume for Microsoft software licences perhaps at some point in the near future, but who really knows? It’s already an outdated product anyway.

  • At that price point, I wouldn’t say it’s a “fire sale”.

    • Rod, I appreciate your position. But the notion of dropping prices in a competitive market when there is no replacement next-generation model signals a desire to sell off inventory. Perhaps it’s not a rock-bottom price to reflect a “fire sale,” but it does indicate a weakness in the original strategy.

  • Victor:

    Last year about this time, I needed a phone and was going to get a Win 8 phone. When the phone is announced and it is only on AT&T, I got an iPhone5 with my preferred carrier.

    Around Christmas I was interested in a tablet but not sure. The Win 8 RT is out but I cannot get at discount or purchase through demo program. I am not willing to risk $500. So I purchase a $300 Samsung tablet and find that I use it almost everyday.

    And today, I have no idea what is going to happen to the Win 8 tablets and I am not that interested any more. New Nokia phone comes out and it is on AT&T only.

    It seems to me that if you want to sell your product, you make it easily available. I am sure desktop Win8 will continue to get used and adopted because the users have very little choice. What happens in the phone and tablet space will be an interesting story.

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