Microsoft seems to have Apple envy. While Apple leads and innovates, Microsoft seems to follow and do things second. When Apple decided to open retail stores, Microsoft must have been chuckling at such an expensive and off brand goal. Apple proved wrong and turned their retail business into another strong revenue stream. So now Microsoft is following the Apple playbook and opening stores as well.
As I've learned, Microsoft tried a decade or so ago to enter retail but didn't succeed and the business closed. "Two years ago, Microsoft decided to get back into the brick and mortar retail business. Now, it is preparing to open its first New Jersey location on the second floor of the Bridgewater Commons mall, right down the corridor from an Apple Store." Can they get it right the second time around, who knows.
I also wonder, why open locations when your recent investment in Barnes & Noble offers an opportunity to bring Microsoft stores into well trafficked locations. I see great synergy should this model prove effective. Microsoft's other challenge is that they are software, not really hardware. While Apple is a closed technology, Microsoft puts their software into multiple product lines. Hopefully Microsoft can find the magic to make their locations inviting and profitable.