Rumors have been flying around lately that Google may open retail stores here in the United States. For some, this seems like tech mecca, replete with devices to worship. For others, this comes across as Google getting a bit ahead of itself. In speaking of eCommerce, Google definitely has a long way to go. Would retail stores help? I doubt it.
In discussing this topic, we have to address the elephant in the room: Google has no presence. Sure, Android devices are everywhere, but we’re talking about an actual presence. Apple has stores, and very impressive kiosks within larger retailers. Microsoft has just about every computer running its services, and a ton of peripherals, essentially dominating the storefront. Google just doesn’t have much in the way of retail presence. The Chromebook kiosks in Best Buy stores are a small endcap, and only show us two Chromebooks, which is not the extend to what Google is.
Google needs a presence, and they need to put a face to their company. Go into an Apple store, and you get to talk to an actual person. The store is tangible, and the experience real. Google operates as a clandestine company, with no interaction with customers. Do you know the number to the Play Store? Probably not off the top of your head, but you probably know where there is an Apple store in your area. In fact, it’s easier to find an Apple store location than it is the Play Store number in a routine Google search.
Google has a variety of issues related to simple commerce, and those are the topics they’re not discussing. Kinks in the Google Armor that serve to weaken the entire suit, like supply chain or customer service, are glaring examples of routine failures. These are things that are intrinsic values to a retail environment, yet seem to be lost on Google.
To be fair, Google is coming into its own, and realising more success via Android and device sales than they conceived. This is an understanding of the issue, but not a solution. The solution is for Google to adopt more of a “shoot from the hip” bravado in regard to supply of devices. If the forecast tells you this device will sell 500,000 the first time round, order 1,000,000. Google wisely pays attention to the forecasts, but those have failed them, recently. The Nexus 7 and 4 were both in much higher demand than anticipated, thus making them harder for consumers to get hold of. Fix the supply chain issue, and you’ve fixed a lot. Much can be forgiven so long as we can get devices in-hand.
When you go into a store like WalMart, you don’t expect much in regard to customer service. When you step into a boutique store, you expect much more. If we’re going to spend $200-400 on a device, we want to feel like it's special, and we’ve done ourselves a favor in purchasing it. We also want to feel like we can come back with any issues we have, however small or silly. This, above all, is where Apple is succeeding with retail. The treatment is wonderful, and the experience makes you want to purchase.
Do we really need to visit a Google Store, other than for device purchases? Many Android users have questions about their devices, but those are usually fairly simple fixes… and solved via online forums or Google+ communities. We may want a Google store, but do we need one?
Some of us, who are geekier than normal, will go just to fool around. Some will go to daydream about buying a device once their contract ends with their carrier, and they can buy an unlocked device and save money on their monthly bill. Others will simply stop in to check stuff out, with no intention of buying or caring about the products.
One thing many Android fans lament is the lack of accessories. An Apple store is full of them, which is understandable when you have a very straightforward product design that has no deviance. Designing an accessory is much easier when there is one device with one style. If Google wants to round out a nice retail environment, they’ll need to line up some accessories for their devices, and have them available at launch… not months later.
There is also software, which takes up a bit of space in a normal retail establishment. No Google OS, be it Android or Chrome, has any need for physical software. How do you occupy that space in the store? Well, they could always have display kiosks talking about Google Fiber or Google Glass. A try-on pair of Google Glass would be a huge draw, and Fiber is something more people should be hearing about.
A Google store doesn’t have to be just about stuff, though. Having the Google local teams involved with the store could help. Here in Portland, our local Google office is wonderful, and has plenty of outings which they sometimes charter a bus for. Having the local store serve as the hub of activity for local Google events would be a great way to further integrate Google into our daily lives.
Google always plays their hand close to the chest. Google never gives us the “caught red-handed” moment we all want. We hear the denials, but we s shouldn't put much stock into it. Google has always been non-committal about, well, anything. They flat-out denied a social network, and there is a good chance their social network where you heard about this article.
We can all agree that Google has a supply chain issue, but we’d be wise to look at recent developments and speculation as evidence they may be taking steps to remedy that problem. Their purchase of Motorola gives them much more than a patent portfolio, as was the reason given for purchase. It gives them control of the supply chain, and if the Motorola X devices are really going to happen, it will be a litmus test for Google. Can Google, when in full control of the supply chain, keep devices available? The Chromebook Pixel has done well in this regard, but the audience for that is much more finite than would be for a new tablet or phone.
In recent days, my interaction with the Google Play Store has been markedly improved, as I’ve had a device purchase and two separate issues. They have followed up famously, and been communicative throughout the process. This is a night-and-day difference to a few months ago, so I’m left to wonder if something has changed internally. Are they gearing up for something bigger? Has there been a change in attitude at the Play Store? If the idea is that some in-store issues would require Play Store hotline support, that particular area would have to improve, as it seems to.
As we know, Android and iOS are very different, and that will be an issue should Google decide to actually push forward with retail stores. In iOS, we have a very tightly controlled system, in which the problems are known and training is possible. Android is open source, and lends itself to tinkering.
This presents an issue, as Google would have to basically employ developers or otherwise brilliant folks if they plan to offer thorough service. If I were to buy a Motorola X, then try to flash a ROM and brick the thing (because lets be honest, I would), I’d probably take it in to the Google store, weeping like a child. If Google really wanted to be the hero, I’d get a cookie and some really bright person saving me from myself, restoring my device to normal. This would be wonderful, but those smart guys and girls come at a price, deservedly so.
Andy Rubin is quoted recently as saying Google “has no plans” for retail stores, but what does that even mean? Earlier I mentioned Google flat-out denied a social network… which was reportedly called “Google Circles” at the time. They denied having a product named Circles, which was technically true, but also a bit of misdirection. Throwing the dogs off the scent doesn't mean you've won the chase. When Google denies having plans, that’s not a denial of them exploring the retail space. It’s a denial of “plans”, which could mean a number of things.
We can make all manner of assumptions, but some things are undeniable. Google, at this point, has no idea what they’re doing in the eCommerce landscape, so a move to physical retail may not be a good move right now. They have far too many problems to deal with for us to think they’ll have a store, or stores, opening any time soon.