Contrary to recent reports, Google has said it doesn't need physical retail stores and won't open any. They're wrong. Google should open brick and mortar stores, just as Microsoft has.
A few weeks ago, 9To5Google reported "an extremely reliable source has confirmed" that Google was developing stand-alone retail stores in major US metropolitan areas. The first stores were slated to open this year for the winter holiday season.
Three days later, The Wall Street Journal also wrote that Google was planning retail stores, although the article hedged because "it isn't clear when or where any stores would open, and one of the people [i.e., a WSJ source] said the Internet giant might not move forward with the plan this year."
Last Tuesday, any hedging was supposedly cleared up by Andy Rubin, Google's senior vice president for mobile and digital content. Speaking to reporters during the Mobile World Congress, All Things D reported that Google would not establish stand-alone physical stores.
Rubin said that several years ago, consumers needed to play with devices before buying them, but today there are many ways to obtain information, such as reading reviews and talking to friends. He also said Google's Nexus line of Android phones and tablets was still in the early stages, so it wasn't necessary to offer them in Google-specific stores.
I disagree with Rubin. For Google, physical stores make sense. Many businesses and consumers might not understand the value of Nexus devices. These Google-branded handsets and tablets feature the "pure" version of the Android operating system without any graphical overlays like Samsung's TouchWiz, and typically receive the latest versions of Android.
But even if everyone knows everything about Android phones and tablets, they certainly don't know much, if anything, about Google's Chromebooks. These laptops include the Chrome operating system for running web apps, rather than locally stored programs. Just last week, Google released the pricey Chromebook Pixel with the highest resolution touchscreen of any laptop. Some enterprises and schools are using Chromebooks, but the laptops often aren't easy obtain online or at big box retailers.
Google's most interesting product, still under development, is Google Glass. Developers and journalists are beginning to test these augmented reality glasses, which should be available to anyone by the end of this year, or the beginning of 2014.
Google needs physical retail stores so enterprises, their employees, and regular folks can not only try these products, but also obtain detailed tutorials from knowledgeable staff. Google stores could establish a special enterprise conference room for IT departments to learn more about Chrome OS and web apps, as well as potential vertical market uses for Google Glass.
Microsoft is quite a different company compared to Google, but it's made sense for Microsoft to open retail stores. It has launched both permanent retail locations and temporary "pop-up" stores. Microsoft desperately needs millions of enterprises and consumers to upgrade to its Windows 8 operating system. The touch-centric OS is so different from older versions of Windows that it cries out for hands-on demonstrations by knowledgeable Microsoft-trained sales people.
Demonstrations also are valuable for convincing enterprises and consumers (including BYOD types) to purchase the company's new Surface tablets with their 10-inch displays and snap-on keyboards. The stores display the new Windows Phone 8 handsets and Xbox 360 game console, and I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft eventually developed its own branded phones.
Despite the value of physical stores, meatspace retailing is fraught with difficulties. For example, Microsoft has had problems supplying enough of its Surface tablets, especially the new Windows Pro and 128GB of internal storage.
Google has experienced significant problems supplying sufficient numbers of Nexus products. Will the company be able to manage the logistics for retail stores across the country?
Another major problem is customer support. Indeed, "Google customer support" is a non-sequitur for consumers and enterprises trying to obtain assistance through the company's notoriously poor online help system and even telephone representatives. I'd be optimistic, though, that sales people at Google stores would be well trained.
Logistics and other retail challenges not withstanding, Google and Microsoft could potentially even surpass Apple in providing a great retail experience. Google and Microsoft conduct extensive research, think big on a global scale and, unlike Apple, are willing to publicly discuss much of it. Their stores could not only sell existing products, but also showcase future ones.
Google and Microsoft's open corporate culture could help overshadow Apple in retailing.
I think it is because of the absence of brick and mortar stores that many people find themselves showrooming. As Mitch pointed out, Google has a lot of non-virtual products, like their phones and tablets. I'm the proud owner of a Nexus 7 and I love it and how it works, but I had to try it out first before I bought it. I can't get a feel for it just by looking at videos online or reading reviews, obviously.
Hence, I showroomed shamelessly before buying it online.
Shakeed, I'm a bit confused whether you think Google needs or doesn't need a store, since you mentioned that they didn't, but said that they do in various comments.
Regardless, I guess I would have to say that I agree (and also disagree?) with you: Google needs a store. I'm fairly certain they can afford it. It might be regarded as an expense, because you'd need to put in capital to set it up, obviously. But it is also an investment. Let's say it works out very well, then Google has hit the jackpot.
I agree with you @shakeeb. Google does not need a physical store. If at all they intend to set up one, they have all the comfortability of hiring some sufficient space in malls, the world over, to showcase their products. This will be very very cost effective to them and as well they can get more closer to customers.
The concept of 'Experience Store' is something new to me and I must say that looks like a very good idea. Since Google is very innovative, this type of store may take Google to newer heights of customer satisfaction. Your point is well taken here shakeeb.
@kq4ym - Ohh yes, this good be a very good marketing point for Google to check if a Google store would work. Most companies use this method of research before they launch a product. Thereby they could look into improvements from their end.
@Mitch - Apple has the advantage over store is because they have physical product to sell and showcase, but most of the product Google have are virtual once, may be they could think of an experience store where customers could try their service.
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