Surface Pro Tablets Remain Scarce After First Weekend of Sales

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-02-11

Surface Pro Tablets Remain Scarce After First Weekend of Sales

My daughter, a newly minted computer scientist and physicist, got up early on a Saturday (something nearly unheard of) and headed off to the Microsoft Store in Tyson’s Corner, Va., to buy a shiny new Microsoft Surface Pro with 128GB memory.

Normally I’d have gone with her so I could get some photos of the lines for eWEEK, but the Washington, DC, Auto Show was in town, and the BMW display was calling my name. Turns out, I had better luck at the BMW display.

My daughter sent me a text while I was still on the Metro heading to downtown Washington. The Microsoft Store, it seemed, was totally sold out of Surface Pro devices. So I did what any good journalist would do, and asked her to get more information on the supply of Surface Pros of all sorts, and let me know what the Microsoft Store folks said about the sellout. Meanwhile, I’d go look at the BMW 3-Series with xDrive.

My daughter asked the Microsoft Store employees how it sold out so quickly. Apparently the store personnel thought they had enough for the launch day sales, but underestimated demand. They wouldn’t say how many units of the Surface Pro they had in stock, but both the 128GB and the 64GB versions were sold out. My daughter was disappointed.

She stopped by our house before heading home, and checked the online Microsoft store. It was sold out as well. Being the dutiful father who hates to see his daughter disappointed, I called the Microsoft Store to see if they could tell me more. The apparently harried clerk told me that they were sold out of every Surface Pro they had, and that maybe they would have some in stock on Monday. He did suggest that I try Best Buy and Staples, which were also selling the Surface Pro.

So I called Best Buy and Staples near my home in Northern Virginia. They, too, had sold out of the Surface Pro. I knew that the Best Buy nearest my home originally had the Surface Pro in stock, because I’d visited that store the night before sales began and looked at the Surface Pro display model, and I asked if they were ready to start selling them Saturday morning. There the store employee assured me that they had a good supply of both the 64GB and 128GB devices.

Surface Pro Tablets Remain Scarce After First Weekend of Sales

On Monday, February 11, I called the Microsoft Store again. Not only were they out of Surface Pro models, they didn’t know when they would have more of them in stock. I talked to one of the store employees who suggested that if I could find a 64GB Surface Pro, I could put a 64 GB memory card in the slot on the side of the device, and it would provide the needed memory. But of course then you lose the use of the slot.

Unfortunately, neither Microsoft Store nor Best Buy has any additional information about when they would get more Surface Pro tablets in stock. replenished. The employee at the Best Buy computer department did let me know that the display model was still there, and that I was welcome to come try it out.

After calling the various stores in my area that were supposed to be selling the Surface Pro and striking out, I checked the Microsoft on-line store. The 64 GB Surface Pro was available for sale on Monday, but the 128 GB version was still sold out. Initially, at least, the Surface Pro seems to be a success. Microsoft experienced Apple-like lines and sold out every device it had almost immediately. Not a bad start.

But then there’s the next question. Why the immediate sell out? There have been all sorts of theories going around the blogosphere imagining a vast conspiracy to drive demand. I don’t think it’s that complicated. I think that Microsoft underestimated demand because the indicators of strong demand appeared so late in the product cycle that the company was caught off-guard.

Remember, analyst reports that the Surface Pro market could be 200 million strong just among IT pros only surfaced the just the week before launch. Even if Microsoft saw such reports and ramped up production, those units wouldn’t be in stores yet. The supply chain isn’t instantaneous. Worse, Surface sales seem to be outpacing Microsoft’s ability to keep up. Microsoft vice president Panos Panay said in a blog entry that retail outlets still had the 64 GB version of the Surface. Guess, what? They don’t.

While it would be fun to speculate that Microsoft was manipulating the purported supply of Surface tablet to fire up publicity by creating the illusion of high demand. I think the simplest explanation is the best. Microsoft didn’t want to be like Hewlett-Packard and have huge quantities of unsold tablets sitting around in stores, so the company estimated sales conservatively, figuring it could always build more. It looks like Microsoft is going to need to get busy and build more in a hurry.

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