Apple's network of shopping locations has been amazingly successful . I suspect they only got into retail in the first place because their products were always relegated to the back shelves in the normal computer stores, and even stores that specialised in Apple gear were strangely useless. For years it was almost impossible to find Apple hardware in any retail space in New Zealand at all.
Having their own retail space enables Apple to introduce products directly to customer without having to convince distributors to stock them, something that used to be a lot harder before Apple's recent successes. My guess is that Apple Stores exist for that reason (and possibly branding) alone - retail space is expensive and I bet Apple makes no more profit on a iPad bought at an Apple Store compared to the same iPad from the Dick Smith next door.
What ever the reason, Apple's relatively recent and totally proprietary secret strategy of selling products that people actually want at a price they are prepared to pay is paying off in spades.
These are the competing Microsoft and Apple stores at the Valley Fair Shopping Center in San Jose. The Microsoft store is actually larger and more conspicuous than Apple's and seems to have about the same number of staff. What it doesn't have is many customers.
Personally, I am not sure why Microsoft has a store. I can't think of a product that I would buy that I couldn't get more easily from somewhere else, and Microsoft's products have never had the same strong branding that Apple's have. Even the Windows8 phones are better purchased through a phone company.
Maybe I just passed by at the wrong time, but I can't see the Microsoft stores lifting Mircosoft's brand (or profits). Microsoft has never had the problems Apple had getting it's products into the market when it created the stores, and I just don't see the point.