Microsoft hires former Wal-Mart exec for retail chain

Microsoft Corp. recently said it would open retail storesso it can better engage with customers and understand their needs, andin the words of chief operating officer Kevin Turner “transform the PCand Microsoft buying experience at retail.” The company also said ithas hired a former Wal-Mart executive, David Porter, to help run thenew retail chain.

Getting to know customers in that more direct fashion is something Apple Inc.has already been doing quite successfully with its fleet of retailstores. In Microsoft’s case, the company may actually end up with a bitof a shift in image should the retail stores prove successful.

About a month prior to Microsoft’s announcement, consultant and blogger James Taylor had written, on a different topic, that U.K.-based grocery chain Tesco PLCreigns supreme when it comes to reaping the benefits of businessintelligence business intelligence (BI), and that even Wal-Mart stillhad much to learn. Taylor said that while Wal-Mart uses BI quiteeffectively to run its supply chain, it doesn’t necessarily use thatanalysis to understand and very specifically target its customers.

So back to Microsoft and its new retail chain. No doubt David Porterwill bring to the table very valuable Wal-Mart experience with retailBI that Microsoft didn’t already have. Maintaining an effective supplychain will help with store operations by keeping shelves stocked. Butactually engaging with the customer and ascertaining their perspectivesand desires is a very different focus from running a supply chain.

But maybe David Porter is planning on taking a different approachthan that applied at Wal-Mart, with a broader use of BI and a closerrelationship with the customer. But time will tell if Microsoft wouldhave been better off poaching talent from Tesco instead.

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