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