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Microsoft Taps Former Wal-Mart Exec For Retail Push

Microsoft's long-rumored push into retail stores has finally come to fruition with the software giant's appointment of a former Wal-Mart executive to a newly created retail store executive position.

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On Thursday, Microsoft appointed former DreamWorks Animation and Wal-Mart executive David Porter to its newly created position of corporate vice president of Retail Stores, signaling the company's intention to start hawking its wares in Microsoft-branded retail stores.

Microsoft isn't talking specifics about its long-rumored move into retail, so no word yet on where the stores will be located, when they'll open, or what kind of products will be sold. Microsoft says those decisions will be up to Porter to make when he starts work on Feb. 16.

"The purpose of opening these stores is to create deeper engagement with consumers and continue to learn firsthand about what they want and how they buy," Microsoft said in a statement.

Porter, who spent 25 years at Wal-Mart, will also take over as the Microsoft employee with the longest experience working for the retail giant; COO Kevin Turner spent nearly 20 years at Wal-Mart before joining Microsoft in 2005.

This is obviously a pretty tough time to be opening a retail store, what with the spate of recent big-box retailer bankruptcies. Microsoft is likely banking on the strength of its mighty marketing machine to create a compelling customer experience, but even Apple appears to be having trouble in this regard, at least lately.

Needham & Co. analyst Charlie Wolf recently published research that suggests that Apple's retail stores aren't immune to the economic malaise. According to Wolf, the number of visitors to Apple stores dropped 1.8 percent year-on-year in December, and same-store revenues dropped 17.4 percent.

Microsoft last November started selling some of its products to U.S. customers through an online storefront for the first time in its history. The software giant couldn't have picked a more difficult time to get into retail stores, and its efforts in this sector will be closely watched.

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