Throughout the lifespans of the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, Microsoft has expanded its physical retail presence significantly, opening stores throughout the U.S. and around the world. Now, after months of a global shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a corresponding shift to digital workshops and sales, the company is moving to close most of its Microsoft Store locations.
The news comes from Microsoft Store VP David Porter, announcing the decision via a release on LinkedIn. Microsoft will keep four of its locations open: those in New York City, London, Sydney, and the location at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington. These will be included in Microsoft's plans to "reimagine new spaces that serve our customers." Porter says that Microsoft Store employees will continue to work "from Microsoft corporate offices and remotely," with many having already transitioned to digital customer service and workshop instruction roles since the shutdown of stores in March in response to the pandemic.
With regards to its gaming business, this means that Microsoft will be heading into a new console generation without a global retail presence all its own. Microsoft did devote significant parts of its stores to Xbox products and regularly held launch events for first-party titles like Gears 5.
Still, Microsoft's retail presence is tiny compared to that of Gamestop (even after recent closures) and big consumer tech chains like Best Buy. With regards to the next Xbox, Microsoft even shifted its new Xbox All Access bundle—a monthly payment offering that includes an option to upgrade from an Xbox One to an Xbox Series X—away from its own stores and over to online purchases through Amazon.
Microsoft is still planning to launch the Xbox Series X alongside Halo Infinite in holiday 2020, and Sony aims to release the PS5 this holiday as well. Exactly when or how players will be able to try either next-gen console for themselves will depend on how different countries and retail chains respond to the pandemic. Here in the U.S., it seems like November or December may be too early for stores to safely put demo kiosks out there so that the public can actually go hands-on with these new systems.