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[15 comments]

Google to open Big Apple store near the Apple Store

March 17, 2014

Google will reportedly open its first U.S. store in New York City's trendy SoHo district, right around the corner from Apple's first Manhattan location. With Google not talking, observers ask whether the space will be used to sell or showcase.

Crain's New York Business reports that Google is close to signing a lease for 8,000 square-feet at 131 Greene St., just a couple storefronts away from eyewear innovator Warby Parker.

Google has been rumored to be opening stores since early last year with the rollout of a variety of gadgets that use its Android and Chrome operating systems. The items include the Nexus line of smartphones and tablets, the Chromebook Pixel laptop, as well as its Chromecast device for connecting TVs to the internet. Later this year, Google Glass and Google's smart watch are expected to arrive.

The company has already experimented with Google-brand sales counters within Best Buy and opened a series of "Winter Wonderlabs" pop-up stores during the last holiday shopping season.

"Being associated with retail is very important to Google's growth," Carol Spieckerman, president of the newmarketbuilders retail consulting firm (and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist), told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The company needs to accelerate the shift in consumer perceptions that it is more than just a search engine."

Speaking to Fortune, however, Forrester's Sucharita Mulpuru suggested the store might be better positioned as a space to show off Google's range, from Glass and smart watches to the high-speed Google Fiber Internet service and even self-driving cars. Like a museum, she sees the opportunity to rotate new exhibits and ideas every few weeks.

"To me it's somewhere between a pop-up store, which is a marketing contest, and a flagship experience destination that is intended to bring an experience alive," Ms. Mulpuru said.

Although consumers could place online orders at Google's six "Winter Wonderlab" pop-ups, they were largely showcase stores. Google is also building barges in California and Portland, ME that it says will be designed to showcase its products and technologies.

Regardless, many observers saw Google taking a major risk opening so close to Apple's SoHo location. Several reports cited how stores from Sony and Microsoft have paled in comparison to Apple Stores. Wrote Harrison Weber for VentureBeat, "If it performs poorly, it will do so quite publicly."

Discussion Questions:

What do you think should be the focus of Google's initial stores — selling or showcasing? What lessons can Google take from Sony and Microsoft when it comes to opening its own store near an Apple location?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Should Google's initial stores be more about selling or showcasing?

Comments:

Google should be doing both, selling and showcasing. The company has some fantastic products that are available to the public now, and has many more in one phase of testing or another. All could be offered for sale or showcased to highlight where Google is going.

Unlike Microsoft and Sony, Google is helping to define consumer products and computing in the future. As such, this store will have greater consumer and geek appeal.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

I'm excited to see what Google comes up with. We all clearly expect them to offer some new take on the retail customer experience, so expectations are high.

I think this first store will clearly be around showcasing and learning. With 47M tourists visiting NYC each year, a large percentage of the store's customers will be visiting on holiday. Which means the overwhelming majority of those customers' relationship with Google is still going to be online. NYC is a great (arguably the best) place to open a store to drive buzz, and get a face to face customer experience with shoppers from all over the world.

I'm expecting the bulk of the store's purpose will be around its physical goods that don't have the same awareness, trust, or marketshare as its famous services (search). So I'm expecting the store to feature Nexus brand products, and eventually the mass-market version for Google Glass. It wouldn't surprise me to see some space dedicated to Google Local or Google Plus.

I know that Google already knows this, but retail is hard! Merely by dipping their toe in the retail real estate market they have elevated all of our expectations, and it may be difficult to deliver on those expectations. Inventing new shopping experiences is a tricky balance; shoppers will expect a Google store to feel and be different than an Apple store, and yet we have all learned how to shop an Apple store. It's usually risky in retail to break too far from conventions.

So Google has a tricky balancing act to perform: be unique and different, but not confusing or unfamiliar. They also need to be careful how they build their team. They absolutely must bring some experienced retail operators, or they risk repeating a lot of mistakes other retailers have already learned from, but they also need some core Googlers that understand what is uniquely Google, so they don't feel like someone else's retail environment.

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Jason Goldberg, VP Commerce Strategy, Razorfish

Has to be showcasing with an eye to eventual sales.

I think the lesson is "Be original."

The Microsoft stores I've seen like poor Apple clones and Sony stores just aren't very exciting. For a Google Store to work, it has to visually (and in every other way) surprise, delight and educate -- hence the emphasis on showcasing not just what's new but -- perhaps even more importantly -- what might be coming.

I think Google has a real opportunity to experiment with a "store as beta testing site" approach -- sort of an informal, ongoing retail focus group. Could be exciting.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Both, but the emphasis would be on showcasing as its going to take some time for them to get acclimated to running a retail environment, even though I am sure they have hired experienced retail people.

I applaud them for not shying away from taking on the champ and all I would suggest is to observe, listen and learn.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

Google is making a bold statement with their SoHo location. Instead of mimicking Microsoft or Sony by taking Apple head-on, I suspect Google will use this specific real estate to celebrate and showcase their wide range of products and how they fit in peoples' lives rather than as a traditional sell space.

If Google wants to make a statement about how they stand for the future of humanity (while attempting to paint Apple as a historical legacy), then I expect the SoHo location to deliver a unique and inspiring experience that helps visitors visualize and internalize how Google is the natural fit for everything they want to do as well as generate new opportunities that consumers have yet to think of.

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Mohamed Amer, Vice President, Global Integrated Retail Unit, SAP

Showcasing has to be most important because they have to find a way to be different from Apple, to delight the people who show up, to make them want to come back. What experience will they create to make that happen? If consumers do not have a great experience they will come once out of curiosity. If they just want to see the products displayed, they can go to other retail outlets. What will make the experience unique?

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

I feel the need to take a different twist on this one. Of course I say "showcasing" but I have a little different reason.

When people think Google, they think innovative, hip, young, vibrant and that they have turned their brand name into a verb. But, I don't think the vast majority out there even associate Google with Chrome, Nexus, and some other of their endeavors. They simply don't "get" the connection between a search engine and all the products.

So who/what is Google really? This is their opportunity to tell and show people, in real time, the answer. With such a strong brand image behind them, there will be great expectations. I can't wait to see what they do and it better not be another twist on the Apple store. That would be soooo lame!

And that's my 2 cents....

Lee Kent, Encourages retailers to meet share and learn, YourRetailAuthority

Google is right to develop a real-world presence by opening a limited number of branded locations in key markets. I doubt it is primarily concerned about selling product in this initial location in SOHO. What matters most is establishing a place to highlight its innovative products in front of some of the most conspicuous consumers in the richest city in America.

There is a long tradition of showcase stores embedded within prime retail neighborhoods (I think of NIKE, AT&T, Bose). These locations are about retail theater and elevating the brands.

For Google, this new location could be chalked up entirely as a pure marketing cost - one which the company can afford without strain. What matters now is execution - telling a continuing, compelling story about where the brand is heading and how it can be essential in the daily lives of consumers.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

I'd suspect that the purpose of this store is to attract press attention, a little like the short-lived Microsoft Surface Store in Times Square. And after Jeff Bezo's genius marketing turn on 60 Minutes with a non-existent delivery drone, expect more grabs at customer consciousness and media scrutiny.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

I think one would have had to have celebrated a bit too early - and maybe a wee bit too hard - to think that a multi-billion dollar company should be concerned about sales from a single location, or even a few dozen locations. This is ALL about perception...or as Nikki succinctly put it, overcoming perception.

What's remarkable about this story, I think, is that (what has been historically) a 100% digital company finds a physical presence necessary (or at least desirable): anxious landlords the world over are likely cheering.

'notcom'

Google's not really interested in opening stores or they would've opened 5 stores in key regional or city centers in a spectrum of sizes and inventories. Right? Retail 101. Or even if they emulated Apple and opened a series of stores only in city centers that knocked your socks off, you might take them seriously as a retailer.

But a "store" next to Apple in Soho, especially of that size, is just a shot over Apple's bow -- "hello, we can do this." Obviously, from a PR perspective, it's already working.

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Lee Peterson, EVP Creative Services, WD Partners

Here in NorCal the most interesting Google story is the recent relocation of their west coast barge (they've got another on the east coast) from San Francisco to Stockton, CA. Constructed of stacked, recycled shipping containers and with an ambiguous purpose (Google is purposely vague), the barge was rejected for berthing in SF and moved to the Port Of Stockton on March 6 to the applause of the local residents. (SF rejecting something weird? Go figure.)

Google is on a mission of flash and mystery. Great! What fun! They will use their new store for anything they choose, and I predict that it will be unpredictable. Selling or showcasing? Are those the only choices? How about training inner-city youths in electronics? How about a design studio?

Two things I've learned about Google are that they'll surprise you and that they'll take great joy in doing so.

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M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

First of all "What have they got to sell?" What have they got to showcase? Google seems to be a lot about noise, but they fall short on consumer-centric products. I have a few Google devices and like Microsoft products, you can't update them with the latest and greatest. Neither can you tell what is Google and what is not, but just runs on some Google system. Apple, on the other hand, seems to go to great lengths to make sure that old products continue to work with every upgrade. Sure new products have new features, but this doesn't trash the old products. Google seems to want you to trash everything you have when a new software version arrives because diddley pop won't work on jaundiced eye.

Google seems to be rather hit or miss and lacks consumer focus, SO WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO SELL? I think they will end up giving away Google Motorola phones with jazzy snack operating systems before the new upgraded software that won't work with anything else is released. I believe the contrast between scatter brained and focused will end up reinforcing the hero halo around Apple.

Ed Dennis, Sales, Dennis Enterprises

The best part of this is the buzz it is generating, with pundits loudly proclaiming what will or won't work. Please. This is a terrific company which will likely surprise and delight the consumer with a unique blend of ideas we haven't even thought of yet. Can't wait.

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Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

It has little to do with Apple, and it's a two-part showcase:

1. Gaining exposure for applications of Android OS and Android Wear in new product categories. Examples will include Google Glass demos and smart watches with social notification and similar features.

2. Encouraging trial of cheap knockoffs in mature categories. Examples will include Android smartphones and tablets as cheaper alternatives to iOS, Chromebook as a cheaper alternative to laptops, and Google Docs as a cheaper alternative to Microsoft Office.

Google software gains trial through the Google portal. Google hardware attracts trial through retail--most often carriers and electronics stores.

It has little to do with Apple and a lot to do with the Big Apple. The SoHo store will be another way to help Google products leap from techies to mainstream, but they will sell comparatively little.

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Dan Frechtling, Vice President, Global Product Management, hibu, PLC

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