Is the time ripe for Google stores?

Photo: Google
Aug 20, 2018
Tom Ryan

Google is reportedly planning to open its first permanent store, a 14,000-square-foot, two-level flagship, in Chicago’s trendy Fulton Market district. Crain’s Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune were among the publications breaking the news.

The Fulton Market location is a few blocks from Google’s Midwest headquarters, which has helped revitalize the former meatpacking district. Google declined to comment on the report.

So far, Google’s brick-and-mortar presence has been limited to in-store shops at locations such as Best Buy in the U.S. and Currys PC World in the U.K., as well as pop-ups opened largely during the Christmas holiday selling season.

The move to open permanent locations has long been speculated as Google’s hardware lineup has expanded to include Pixel smartphones and tablets, Google Home voice-activated speakers, the Daydream View VR headsets, the Chromecast Ultra streaming TV device and Nest thermostats and home security systems.

The size of the location indicates that the tech giant may intend to follow Apple’s lead in creating showcase stores in major cities for consumers looking to bask in the Google experience. Apple has around 270 stores in the U.S., while Microsoft has about 100. has also moved into physical retail in recent years, including its acquisition of Whole Foods, the launches of Amazon Books and Amazon Go, the opening of mall pop-up shops and partnerships with Kohl’s and Best Buy. The brick & mortar ventures wholly or partly support sales of Amazon devices such as Echo, Fire TV, Fire tablets and Kindle, but some also offer pick-up points for online deliveries.

Google has already explored a physical presence. In 2015, the company spent $6 million renovating a 5,000-square-foot retail space in New York’s SoHo district for a potential flagship, but wound up nixing the plan and sub-leasing the space. In 2013, Google-constructed barges popped up in the waters off San Francisco and Portland, ME that were designed to be floating showrooms to showcase Google Glass and other gadgets. Those plans were also scuttled reportedly due to fire-safety concerns.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What kind of brick-and-mortar strategy, if any, makes the most sense for Google to support its hardware lineup? What lessons should Google take from pushes by Apple and Amazon into physical retail?

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22 Comments on "Is the time ripe for Google stores?"

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Charles Dimov

Google should definitely follow the Apple model for its own goods. Showcase stores make sense for them. See it, and buy the limited quantities in-store or submit your online order right then and there.

They may also want to consider a section of the store (clearly delineated) to be more of a market bazaar atmosphere. Here retailers on the Google online marketplace can pay a fee to have their products showcased in the physical store. Following the same minimalist and future-focused brand, cherry pick the coolest and best technology products for the in-store merchandise lineup.

Mark Ryski

The key lesson that Google should take is that physical retail plays a critical role in customer experience and in how people engage with a brand. Google’s portfolio of products and services is significant and growing and it behooves them to seriously explore how a physical presence can help enhance their brand and reach people in a new way. While Google-related products don’t have the same cachet as Apple, the Apple store experience provides some of the most interesting learnings about how to engage with consumers in the physical world. That said, Google should not merely attempt to “me too” the Apple store experience.

Neil Saunders

Google should open a store to showcase its hardware and its various services. While Google has a lot of services and products, its consumer strategy always seems rather confused and disjointed and it could use a store to explain and demonstrate what it has to offer.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

It was only a matter of time. Like everyone else Google realizes that the future is “phygital,” a blend of physical and digital. Google certainly needs to showcase and create an experience for its hardware before it loses more ground to Apple. However, the last thing Google needs is a lower grade Apple-like store focused only on its hardware. Google needs to strategically partner with key marketplace vendors to showcase Google solutions for the home and lifestyle. If Google is going physical, it has to demonstrate everyday customer relevance beyond just “search.”

Tom Dougherty

If Google continues to create more devices then it might make a little sense. But not a lot of sense.

However, the world is fast moving away from brick-and-mortar. Apple opened its stores in a different era. I’m not convinced that model would be nearly as successful if they were launching them now.

The real challenge for Google is to find ways to make their brand more coveted without the expense of physical footprints. It’s the future.

If anyone can figure it out it will be Google. Opening retail stores sounds a bit like advice from traditional marketers. And much of the conventional wisdom is too conventional for today’s shoppers.

Another discussion on today’s RetailWire is about the failure of loyalty programs with the latest generation of shoppers. I wonder if the same marketing gurus who think a retail store makes sense would also be suggesting a new Google loyalty program.

Art Suriano

Google opening stores is the next step in the evolution of retail today. It seems almost every day that another e-commerce retailer is opening stores. Stores have advantages that when balanced nicely with the e-commerce platform they can be hugely successful. Google stores, which I suspect will follow the looks of Apple and Microsoft, will offer customers an opportunity to experience Google’s technology before making purchases. It will be an excellent time for Google store associates to walk customers through the many possibilities they will have using Google products. Having Google stores will lead to more sales and additional awareness of what Google can bring to one’s life experience. If marketed and promoted correctly, I would expect this to be successful.

Lauren Goldberg

Smart move for Google. A showroom-type store could work for them, but Apple has set the bar pretty high, not just on design but on service. They need to invest in a strong operations/service model with knowledgeable associates for this to work. In the technology space, part of the appeal of physical retail is the ability to experience and touch a product, but I believe a bigger part is to get assistance and support.

I like the idea that others have mentioned to showcase products from the Google marketplace. Another thing they could do to differentiate themselves is to have part of the store focus on their services, especially for small business owners.

Joanna Rutter
11 months 28 days ago

Absolutely agree! Google can set itself apart from the Apple store experience by using its stores as community-centered hubs for educating small business owners about how to use their tools. “Set up your Ads account in 10 minutes” drop-in sessions, etc.

Celeste C. Giampetro

You beat me to the punch, Joanna and Lauren. Education could be a real standout component for Google. On-site classes on everything from how to set up your Chromebook to (as you mentioned) AdWords tutorials. A physical presence could also help spread wider awareness of the tech they’re experimenting with at their developer conferences.

Brandon Rael

The move to opening a physical multi-sensory experiential showroom is an inevitable move for any digital native or e-commerce giant, especially as the physical and digital worlds converge. Google should certainly capitalize on the opportunity to open strategically-located cosmopolitan based showcase stores by not just simply copying Apple’s model, but to truly demonstrate what differentiates the brand from Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and others.

Google’s product and service offerings have expanded significantly in recent years — perhaps its high time for the physical showrooms to provide a forum where customers could engage, connect and build closer relationships with the Google brand as well as their brand ambassadors. There are plenty of service and product offerings and now seems like the perfect time to evangelize just what they are in a physical and experiential setting.

Zel Bianco

This will continue to confirm the strategy that in most cases, you need a physical retail location in order to provide a total customer experience. Those running from maintaining a physical location should take a little comfort in this trend.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

An innovation showcase that can profile Google developments across a spectrum including transportation, medicine, business, media, etc. would support Google brand development, recruitment and the resellers upon which it depends.

Jeff Sward

Probe. Explore + Experiment. Test. This makes all the sense in the world, even if just to stay relevant and competitive with Apple, Microsoft and others. But if you think about the data and knowledge that Google has access to — WHAT sells, WHEN and WHERE, they could be an amazing platform for regionalizing and localizing a whole range of products.

Shep Hyken

After reading the article (and the questions) some thoughts came to mind. So Google is now getting ready to compete on the same level as Microsoft and Apple for their digital products. Head-to-head means store-to-store. Also, sometimes a physical presence is as much about awareness as it is about sales, if not even more. I’m looking forward to visiting the store and getting a hands-on experience with Google products.

Cate Trotter

I think Google has been toying with the idea for a while, so it’s not a huge surprise that it might become a reality. I wonder if a major driving factor is to introduce customers to the Google Home set-up and push back against the Echo. It’s a really interesting thing because Amazon doesn’t have physical stores, but consumers are used to going to it for shopping — it is a retailer. Google isn’t a retailer. It’s products are really digital services, but it’s looking at physical space to put the products enabled by those services in front of customers. Lots to unpack in the thinking. I also think the location is an interesting choice being so close to Google’s area HQ. I wonder if there will be any cross-over/collaboration between them whether that’s for consumers or for staff. There’s definitely room for the store to target business customers, as Amazon has done in past pop-ups, as well as general consumers.

Cathy Hotka

The bar is set really high for this; people will expect the most compelling, engaging, modern experience possible. You can bet that others will be watching this rollout carefully, with an eye toward copying the elements that work best.

Harley Feldman

Google needs to have a brand presence in retail stores beyond its online presence. Most consumers do not think of Google as selling retail products, a problem that can only be addressed with retail stores like Amazon and Apple have done. The big challenge for Google is developing the stores at a growth rate that catches up with the other two. Google should lead with its Pixel phone as almost consumers have a smartphone. The other Google products, especially Nest Thermostats and Hello, should be good products to attract consumers.

James Tenser

Google’s hardware range is expanding, and with it the need to enable consumers to interact with its products. Showcase stores are a good idea, and the company would do well to use them to define its own brand identity.

This may be best accomplished by elevating a unique hardware product to “legendary” status. The Pixel 2 mobile phone comes close, but the Chromebook is kind of a lightweight. Google Glass hasn’t set the world on fire yet either. Something sexy is needed.

Using physical stores to demonstrate its product “ecosystem” may be a promising strategy. To do so, it would need to staff them with highly competent product advisers, and build hands-on experiences into the store concept.

Ken Morris

Physical stores make perfect sense to showcase Amazon’s current portfolio of tech products. It seems like a smaller footprint than 14,000 sq ft would make more sense, however, maybe they will lease some of the space to brands that are selling innovative products on Google Marketplace. Eventually, I expect Google to follow the lead of Amazon and expand its product portfolio significantly by adding private label brands of multiple product categories beyond technology.

I saw the barge idea in Portland and that was an ill fated idea. Maybe acquiring a retailer with stores in key markets as a way to accelerate its physical presence – just like Amazon acquiring Whole Foods would be a better approach.

Who said the store is dead?

Craig Sundstrom

My first thought was “Why does Google even have a retail strategy?” Although that’s probably more a testimony of my “out-of-it”-ness with regard to tech, I think the point is still valid: Google is not — or at least has hot heretofore been — a retailer. So I’m not at all convinced a(n own store) b&m presence makes any sense for them; and if it does, I’m not sure either Apple or Amazon is the relevant model … other than the obvious point that both are “tech” companies.

Ricardo Belmar

Further proof that stores are the future! Yes, Google opening a flagship store to showcase their products and, more importantly, the experience of using those products is a great idea. However, Google must get it right the first time as the bar is quite high.

Many comparisons will be made with Apple, but I think a better comparison is with Microsoft stores. Google needs to not only showcase their own products, but also those of other brands that compliment, or make use of Google technology.

Most importantly, Google has to make the store an experience. This is where they could be a mix of what makes an Apple store an Apple store and what makes a Microsoft store a Microsoft store. Not every Google product is intuitive nor is it readily apparent to many consumers why they need those products.

This is Google’s chance to shine a new light on their products to help consumers understand how they make their lives better. Without this element, their stores will not succeed.

Min-Jee Hwang

Google should absolutely use a physical store as a way to create cohesive messaging about its products and services. This would be a great opportunity to get in front of consumers and give them an opportunity to try before buying while speaking with a live sales associate. Google should also have no problem implementing omnichannel strategies like BOPIS to make it easier for shoppers to get the Google products they’re after.

"They need to invest in a strong operations/service model with knowledgeable associates for this to work."
"Google’s hardware range is expanding, and with it the need to enable consumers to interact with its products."
"I wonder if a major driving factor is to introduce customers to the Google Home set-up and push back against the Echo."

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