Some good news for Microsoft's Surface tablet -- it may finally sell at retailers

Most reports say that Microsoft's Surface tablet has had sluggish sales since its launch, possibly partly due to poor distrubution -- only through Microsoft. But now a report says that the RT-based tablet may be for sale in retailers beyond Microsoft's own brick-and-mortar and online stores. If so, that could help the struggling tablet gain some serious sales.

Paul Thurrott reports:

"Within days, Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT tablets will be available far more broadly than via its current, limited distribution system (i.e., only via Microsoft's retail and online stores)."

Thurrott claims that the plan was always for the tablets to go on sale at retailers other than Microsoft, but that was supposed to happen originally in early 2013.

I've always been surprised at the Surface's limited distribution, only through Microsoft. The TV airwaves have been blitzed with ads for the Surface, yet when people go into their normal brich-and-mortar stores or to their normal online retailers, they don't find them. Few people probably realize the tablets have to be bought directly from Microsoft, and many people probably don't even realize that Microsoft has brick-and-mortar stores.

At least one analyst has cited the limited distribution as a reason that the Surface hasn't sold well. The Boston-based brokerage firm Detwiler Fenton says that Microsoft will to sell only 500,000 to 600,000 of them in the December quarter, compared to Microsoft's expectations of one million to two million. The firm said:

"Lack of distribution is killing the product. Mixed reviews and a [$499] starting price tag certainly don't help, but lack of retail exposure at Best Buy and others is severely depressing sales."

Even at Microsoft stores, Surface sales weren't booming, at least during Black Friday. Piper Jaffray analysts staked out a Microsoft store on Black Friday at the Mall of America, the most-visited mall in the world. During the two hours they were watching, not a single person bought a Surface, compared to 11 iPads bought per hour at the Apple Store.

Although wider distribution will certainly help Surface sales, I think the $500 starting price tag is too high for it to become a winner. I'm not alone in thinking that. An IDC report concluded:

"Price points are critical in tablets, and Microsoft and its partners will have a tough time winning a share of consumer wallet with price points starting at $500."

Still, wider distribution should help sales. A lower price would help even more.

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