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Does Google really need a retail store?
Google has a new brick-and-mortar store in New York City. Though Google has experimented with pop-up stores in the past, it is calling this new establishment its “first” store, named the Google Store NYC. The store is located on the first floor of the company’s New York headquarters building on 9th Avenue. It officially opened on June 17.
Prior to opening, Google said the new store will be a “natural extension of our commitment to NYC and provide customers with hands-on interaction with our lineup of devices and services.” That includes its roster of Pixel phones and Pixelbooks, as well as its Nest and Fitbit products.
Based on pictures of the Google Store (check out our own photo tour here), there is lots of bright light and plenty of warm wooden tones to the furniture. There are stations where people can try out Google products, such as Nest displays or thermostats, as well as sample some Stadia gaming in a dedicated room.
It’s all very… familiar.
If you think the new Google Store NYC bears an uncanny resemblance to some Apple Stores, you wouldn’t be too far off. Apple Stores are known for their bright light and wooden tables with lots of gear available for hands-on experiences. Apple Stores are also known for their “Geniuses” to help people resolve problems with their iPhones, iPads, and Macs. The Google Store, too, will have product experts on hand to assist Google device owners with their gear. Apple Stores regularly hold events meant to teach or otherwise help customers with their device’s apps and features. Google’s store will play host to such events as well, such as storytime, YouTube concerts, and Pixel lessons.
And the location is no accident. Granted, the Google Store is located in Google’s headquarters building, but the address just happens to be one block from a major Apple Store, as well as across the street from the popular tourist spots Chelsea Market and the High Line. It’s just a few blocks from the Samsung 837 experience center.
What is Google's goal with this store? It can't possibly be to boost Pixel sales.
Speaking of which, Samsung has its own place for experiences, though it is closed for the moment due to the pandemic. The Samsung 837 center is more of an event space than a product showcase, though products are still on hand for playing with.
So what is Google’s goal with this store? It can’t possibly be to boost Pixel sales. Consumers in the US are most likely to buy a Pixel phone at a carrier store, which is where the bulk of phone sales are still made. That means Google doesn’t expect consumers to be lining up outside its door for the Pixel 6. (Though maybe they will.) The same can be said of gear such as Nest Wi-Fi or other networking products, which are more likely to be sold by Best Buy.
The entire exercise is a play at raising awareness not necessarily of Google’s brand, but of what its products can do together. The company said its aim is to help customers “see how the best of Google’s software and services come to life when using them.”
The kicker is, Google’s products don’t always play so well together. In fact, sometimes it feels like they were designed in a silo. Let’s pick on the idea of continuity for a second. In the Apple ecosystem, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, macOS, and tvOS all play well together. Users can transition from iPhone to iPad to Mac seamlessly. The same is not true of Google’s ecosystem. Android phones and tablets hardly do anything seamlessly, and neither really talks to Chromebooks, other than perhaps the Pixel phone’s ability to automatically provide a wireless connection to the laptop and basic file sharing with Nearby Share. What is Google going to showcase at its store, exactly?
Google Assistant and Nest are likely the best bet for the company. Assistant’s integration into select Nest products brings the power of voice requests to all areas of the home. But even that can lead to problems. I have multiple Google Assistant devices in my house and more than one of them perks up each time I say “Hey, Google.” Imagine saying that in a store full of Google Assistant-equipped devices.
Will Google sell some products at the Google Store NYC? Sure. Will those sales move the needle on Google’s various hardware businesses? No. Google says it is about helping customers connect the dots between Pixel, Nest, and other products in a way that Google sees as meaningful. I just hope people don’t get lost along the broken pathway that sometimes fails to connect Google’s devices to one another.