Google has been inching closer to opening its own retail stores for the past three years. It opened a Google schwag store on its own Mountain View campus in 2010. Then it tested a “store within a store” or “pop up store” concept in London, called “The Chromezone,” to sell Chromebooks for holiday 2011.
In 2012, Google sent a supply of Chromebooks to BestBuy in the US and Dixon’s in the UK to create an offline retail presence for the product. In addition, last year, Google was running a novel promotion with Virgin America at several US airports. Users got to try out Chromebooks on Virgin flights along with free WiFi.
There was also a report early last year of a major Google retail store planned for the company’s European headquarters in Dublin. We discovered that this was basically just going to be a larger version of the Google employee store at the company’s Mountain View headquarters.
Now, however, the 9to5 blog is reporting, based on “an extremely reliable source,” that Google is embarking on a full-blown consumer retail strategy. The blog says that this will be a stand-alone retail store strategy, like the Apple store or Microsoft store. According to the report, Google “hopes to have the first flagship Google Stores open for the holidays in major metropolitan areas.”
Back in 2006, I thought it would make sense for Google to open stores in shopping malls, not to sell hardware (which it didn’t have at the time) but to educate small businesses about AdWords and offer customer support. Now everything has changed in terms of the logic of a Google offline retail strategy.
Google currently is selling Nexus handsets, tablets and Chromebooks on its Google Play site. In addition to those items, the company could sell Motorola handsets, Google Glass, Google TV and other yet-to-be developed consumer products. It could also promote third-party Google partner products (e.g., other Android handsets), as well as promote the Google brand more generally.
There are many “use cases” for a Google store concept. The company could demo Google Wallet for example. There’s a pretty compelling logic here. And Apple has shown how strategic physical stores can be.
Assuming the 9to5 report is true and the forthcoming Google retail stores are not just another round of holiday pop-up shops, it will be interesting to see how big a bet Google makes on offline retail: how many square feet, how many stores, etc.
Below is a video tour of the Mountain View Google employee store.