Microsoft Surface RT plagued by "very high" return rates
There has been a pretty wide range of sales estimates when it comes to the Microsoft Surface RT tablet. Some estimates put the numbers as high as 1 million sold, some merely say 900,000 shipped, and some say that it could be as bad as 230,000 units sold. Whatever the actual number, it seems that one major factor in determining the final tally is that the Surface RT has been plagued by "very high" return rates. Back in October, the day after the tablet was first released, Microsoft was forced to change its return policy to allow customers to return Surface tablets in opened packaging.
According to IHS iSuppli, Microsoft shipped around 1.25 million Surface RT tablets in Q4, but only about 55-60% of those units were actually sold. This would mean sales around 680,000 to 750,000, but in addition to those low sell-through rates for the tablet, iSuppli says that the tablet also saw "very high" return rates. The low sell-through rate isn't necessarily uncommon, as iSuppli says similar rates can be seen in various new Android tablets, but the combination of low sell-through and high returns is a big red flag.
According to iSuppli, the current gold standard for sell-through rate is the Apple iPad, which is typically in the "mid to high 90 percent range or even 100 percent". This could be attributed not only to the popularity of the iPad, but also to Tim Cook's expertise in supply chain, and the fact that Apple keeps such a small amount of stock on hand at any given time, maximizing sell-through rates.
IHS iSuppli analyst Rhoda Alexander said that the reason for the high return rate was "linked in a lot of cases to a steep learning curve of the [Windows 8] OS -- which is not necessarily intuitive." This is a common complaint with Windows 8/RT, but also something of a lazy excuse. There may be a couple things that are a bit unintuitive with the OS, but they tend to be issues that are more commonly experienced on a non-touchscreen device. On a touchscreen device, Windows 8/RT is definitely intuitive, and easy to learn. We would have been convinced more if the reasoning had been due to the limitations of RT compared to Windows 8.