At this point, Apple has over 500 retail stores around the world. Microsoft had a bunch of stores (but now only has a handful). Even Samsung had permanent retail locations before the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to shut them all down. Google, however, has been content with the online Google Store and some random pop-up establishments throughout the years.
That changed yesterday when Google finally opened its first permanent retail home. Occupying a historic building in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, the store is as colorful, bold, and sustainably produced as its products.
The big problem Google faces, though, is filling the store up with enough products to justify its existence. We’ll get into that later. For now, let’s walk through the basic gist of the store so you can get an idea of what it’s all about without needing to head to the Big Apple.
It’s all about the Google Store experience
Right when you walk through the doors, Google wants you to know that this is not a normal store. Depending on which set of doors you enter, you’re presented with a different smattering of seating, toys, games, and unique in-store experiences. In the middle of that, you’ll spot a few Google products, too.
One of the in-store experiences focuses on the Night Mode capabilities of Pixel phones. You enter a darkened room that’s lit like a nighttime cityscape with Pixel phones all along the walls. The phones snap photos of you to show how Google’s photo algorithms will make them pop. When you exit, a display screen gives you a unique QR code for you to download all the photos the experience just captured.
Another room features plush chairs, wall-mounted TVs, and a whole slew of game controllers. This is the Stadia room where you can experience gaming without any consoles or computer towers needed. Obviously, your gaming will be interrupted every once in a while by a Google employee asking if you need any help — or reminding you that other people would like to try out the game, sir.
Yet another area is set up like a mock living room. This room is meant to give you an idea of how Google Nest products and Google Assistant can make your home life easier. The automated system instructs you on giving Assistant voice commands to do things like check who’s at the door, change the temperature of the room, turn the lights on, etc.
Finally, there’s a group space where you can simply relax and talk with your friends, wait for your dad to buy his new phone, or get some work done.
Underneath, though, it’s an Apple Store
Obviously, the Google Store wouldn’t exist if there weren’t products to sell. When you strip away all the experiences and lounge areas, what you’re left with is essentially an Apple Store.
All the Google products are arranged on tables throughout the store, just like Apple does. The layout puts emphasis on the integration of all the products, just like Apple does. If you want to buy something, you just ask an employee as there are no cash registers — just like at an Apple Store.
There’s no Genius Bar here, but there is a Google equivalent. You can bring in your current Google products for help or ask them about buying a new product. You can also buy things online to pick them up in-store, which Apple has done for years.
Even the tables that hold all the products look like rounded versions of the ones you’d find in an Apple Store.
Granted, an Apple Store won’t have anything like a Stadia room or a mock living room setup. But those are aspects of this store that feel uniquely connected to its flagship status. If Google plans on opening Google Stores in other locations, they likely wouldn’t all have those experiences. If that were to happen, the Google Store would look and feel very much like an Apple Store.
Now, that’s not the worst thing in the world. Apple’s retail strategy is clearly successful. Google just isn’t going to win any points for innovation when it comes to its retail space.
Can Google justify its existence?
The big takeaway I had when exiting the Google Store was the repetition of the layout. On one table, you’d have some Pixel phones, a Pixelbook Go, a Nest Audio, and maybe some Fitbit watches. Moving to the next, you’d have those same products but with a Nest Hub Max swapped in. On another table, it would be those same products again but with a focus on the Google Nest Wifi system.
It’s clear that Google just doesn’t have enough hardware to fill a store of this size. Apple has iMacs, iPads, MacBooks, Apple Watches, Apple TV boxes, and iPhones to fill up tables. Each table could focus only on one product. Then there are Beats headphones, AirPods, and accessories that can fill wall space.
Google just doesn’t have enough stuff to fill this store, and it’s hard not to notice the lack of variety as you move from table to table. Obviously, the company is only going to have more and more stuff as time goes on, whether from Nest, Fitbit, or its own branding. For now, though, Google has a long way to go before it can justify the existence of a full-scale store experience with what little it does have.
Regardless, if you find yourself in Chelsea, the Google Store is worth a visit. It gives an accurate feeling of what Google “feels” like as soon as you walk through the doors. If you just want to buy some Google products, though, the online store will suit you just fine.