Does Google need its own retail store?


I’m often asked why Google doesn’t have its own retail stores ala Apple, and now Microsoft. After all, the Mountain View corporation commands the world’s biggest mobile operating system, and has a lot of product spaces to delve into should it find the need to fill store shelves with unique stuff. Whether or not Google needs its own retail store is a good question, and we’ll take a look at both sides of the coin to see if we can’t help answer it.

Why a retail store would be difficult for Google

There are many reasons why Google should open its retail stores, and the company certainly has the capital and clout to do so. So why haven’t they? That’s a tough question to answer without being able to pick the brains of several executives within the company, but there are a few glaring points that we can dive into without the help of El Goog. Later, we’ll discuss how a retail store would help the company and why we’d be excited to see one come to fruition. Let’s go!

If you can’t do it online…

It’s easy to look no further than the company’s failed online store experiments. The first time Google tried running its own online store front — when the Nexus One first launched — it failed miserably. A combination of shortcomings in areas like customer service, user experience and a lack of advertising doomed the experience, and Google decided to shut it down.

Fast forward to today, and while things have improved a bit the experience is still far from perfect. Google leveraged the Play Store’s attractive good looks and marketplace feel to peddle its latest wares. I won’t knock Google on supply constraints alone (that’s something hardware partners are also accountable for), but the early lack of communication and confusion on Google’s part regarding the shipment delays for the latest Nexus devices didn’t do much to instill confidence that its customer service improved in quality.

Beyond that, Google didn’t necessarily employ “best-in-class” logistics as shipment patterns remained erratic and unpredictable for quite some time. Google could pull it off with experienced partners by its side, but the taste left in our mouths by the latest blunders have us appreciating the likes of Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart even more.

Google has to avoid favoritism game

One of the biggest challenges Google continues to face in this journey is the ability to balance, and the balancing act that involves OEM focus vs Android focus is a tough one to master (but we’ll get into that a little later). Beyond that, the Mountain View company doesn’t want to do anything to make any of its OEM partners feel like one company is getting more favorable treatment over another, and it also wants to shy away from promoting Android as the only bit that matters in this big, convoluted equation.

Because Android can be licensed and customized by pretty much anyone, it is imperative for Google to let the “darwinism” of the mobile tech world play out organically, but at the same time Google has to make sure that particular stance doesn’t scare others away.

Take Samsung, for instance — it seems like it is the only company still making any significant amount of money with Android products in this day and age, and the train doesn’t seem to be slowing down soon. It would be against Google’s best interest to let the likes of HTC, LG, Sony and more suffer, but at the same time it would go against Google’s MO to do anything to stop it from happening.

Translate that into the retail space, and you can see how things could get out of hand. Shoving Samsung products into the window displays would attract more customers, sure, but then you’re leaving less of a spotlight for the others. On the flip side, should Samsung be punished for creating an exciting and compelling product? Absolutely not.

Even the most subtle nuances in the presentation of a Google/Android store could send one of these OEMs off the deep end, and without a better understanding of the dynamics between OEM and software vendor it becomes a tricky issue to tackle. This is something Google will have to avoid as best as it can for as long as it can.

 Iconic branding a double-edged sword

Knowing that Google is sitting on a goldmine of a brand, but one that it can’t push to the strongest of its abilities, is a tough cookie to swallow. “Google” itself is a household name already, and the lovable face of its mobile operating system — BugDroid — is absolutely perfect. It’s something for humans to identify with, and it sure beats the image of a dull bitten apple.

Google could get really creative with the Android brand, but this goes back to the same problem that forces Google’s hand when it comes to OEM favoritism. Google wants Android to appeal to manufacturers with its openness and ability to be customized, so that they can differentiate from one another and create their own unique products.

It would be unwise for Google to go the Microsoft route and force the stock Android skin on its partners, because it’d lose the very perk that has generated so much OEM interest in the first place. Google keeps the stock dream alive with the Nexus brand, and that’s enough for us — if a user really wants stock Android, they’ll know where and how to find it.

That will never help in the quest to kill the fragmentation issue, of course, but if it’s what inspires and drives these companies to keep innovating and creating new products we can’t say we aren’t all for it. It all goes full circle from there: let OEMs choose where to sell, how to sell, and what to sell, and you’re going to keep everyone happy and willing to push your product forward. It’s worked for Google this long — to the tune of owning more than half the worldwide market share in just over 4 years — so why change things up?

How a retail store would help

That said, the geeky and fun consumer in me would still love to see a chain of Google stores. If Google can find a way to create a retail experience that doesn’t alienate its hardware partners or hurt the future of the platform, we’re all for it. Here are some ways in which a retail store could help Google push several of its platforms forward.

Emerging products could get much-needed shine

There’s a huge elephant in the room that no one seems to want to talk about — beyond Android phones and tablets, where is Google succeeding? Google has tried a lot of different things over the years, but not all of it has turned out to be a hit. In fact, a vast majority of it hasn’t panned out. Google TV is off to a rocky start as user adoption is slow and developer interest is waning.

It’s remarkable that Google still has several OEMs willing to help push the idea into the living rooms of users everywhere. We were all but certain that Google TV was in trouble after Logitech decided to throw in the towel, but the folks at Sony, ASUS and Vizio are keeping things afloat for the time being.

Likewise, the whole ChromeBook experiment doesn’t seem to be skyrocketing into the atmosphere. Like Google TV, we didn’t expect results overnight, but you have to wonder just how long Google can keep it up. Samsung and ASUS have been the only OEMs willing to give it a fair shot as of late, though a couple of more are rumored to have products coming in the near future.

Like Android, Google is trying to leave the promotion, marketing and growth of these two platforms up to manufacturers, but things just don’t seem to be going quite as well. And just how will Google get folks to buy a pair of Google Glasses at this rate? As cool as they are, it will take a whole lot more than “cool” to sell people on a pair of distracting glasses that will cost hundreds of dollars (even if people spend that much on eye-wear products which do much less).

A Google retail store would give these products the shine they need. People would find it in their faces and ready to be played with instead of shoved into a tiny corner of a large retail store without so much as a demo to see how the stuff works. It would break Google’s conservative advertising ideology, but it’s something that needs to happen, and seemingly can’t happen soon enough.

Google could crush the Apple Store

Let’s face it — one of the biggest reasons any of us would love to see a Google store erected in the streets of New York, LA and other cities of the world is because of the potential blow Google could deal to Apple. Apple stores receive a tremendous amount of traffic. I don’t know if you’ve ever set foot in one, but the busiest stores can become elbow-to-elbow grope fests, and it’s not uncommon to see a MacBook or iPhone repair being carried out on the floor instead of on a neat service counter.

Imagine the type of store Google could build to attract some of those people and get more people in-tune with Android and all things Google. We already know how creative and fun Google can be first hand: anyone who’s been to the last couple of Mobile World Congress shows can attest to the wackiness it brings to the table.

A Google store would be infinitely more fun and inviting, and the range of products would be diverse enough to hold the attention of anyone for hours. Translate the feel-good energy from that experience into a potential sale and you could see sales soar higher than they ever have before. We don’t want Apple killed off completely, of course — competition is always good — but we sure would love to see it take a bit more of a beating than it’s already gotten these past few years.

It would help improve brand awareness

It all comes down to this, really. This contradicts a point I made in the previous section, but it’s impossible not to play both sides of the fence here (especially when you consider recent rumblings around the tech world). Even though Android is everywhere and smartphone owners buy more Android phones than any other, it could still do with some stronger brand awareness.

As tech geeks, we tend to get a little peeved when someone calls their phone a “DROID” even when the device might be offered on the likes of US Cellular and MetroPCS. A recent study also suggested that consumers identify with Samsung’s Galaxy brand more than they do Android itself. You no longer have “Android phones,” but “DROIDs” and “Galaxies,” and it would be nice if that weren’t the case.

Google might not mind that situation considering its desire to keep an open marketplace where the best man is free to do what they will to win. Still, if it’s going to really beat Apple in the mobile front — including tablets, where there’s still a lot of work to be done — it has to do something to establish a strong brand identity with a flag that people will be proud to wave no matter which phone or tablet they have.

Just dream a little!

These are just the opinions of one man, though. There is a ton of room and need for Google stores (with Android and Chrome OS as heavy focuses, obviously), but at the same time there’s a lot that’s forcing Google’s hand and the sheer idea of getting anything of the sort is just wishful thinking.

Let us know your thoughts, though — should Google open a retail experience or should they continue to do what’s been working for them? And don’t stop there: let us know what type of features you’d love to see in a Google store! We know the tech giant loves to have fun (as evidenced by its amazing offices and consistent rating as the world’s best company to work for) so go nuts with your idea and fantasize along with the rest of us in the comments section below.

Quentyn Kennemer
The "Google Phone" sounded too awesome to pass up, so I bought a G1. The rest is history. And yes, I know my name isn't Wilson.

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  1. No thank you. We don’t need more US only things xD

    But seriously….I don’t think it would do much good. Google is an internet company, let them focus on selling hardware worldwide first through the web.
    The only good parts about the store that I can see would be brand awareness and better customer service (as complaints can be directed at an employee’s face rather than spending hours looking for an email/phonenumber to voice your complaints)
    But Google’s customer service has been improving since the Nexus One days, (though it still has a long way to go, but that is mostly for services that are not neccesarily android related)
    So that will come by itself…..further…the Android brand does not need more awareness…..The Nexus brand does and each specific OEM brand (the S series has enough, but HTC’s One series, the Experia-line, Optimus-line and RAZR-line of phones need the awareness).

  2. A store would be cool if you could get some sweet Android merch and to play with the Nexus devices I do not yet own. Maybe when the Chromebook line and OS expand and get better, they’ll have a reason.

  3. i would like it so i can have a physical store to find all sorts of bug droid merch.

  4. Yes. Here in Michigan, please. I will be in every weekend. Thank you for accepting my money. Good day.

    1. ^This except put one in Myrtle Beach, SC.

      1. also in San Francisco

    2. I’d stop by if they put one in their Ann Arbor location but otherwise… meh. I already know their products are gonna be good if its a form factor I want.

    3. I’d happily accept one in Phoenix, AZ.

  5. No. No. And No. Retail space and employees cost money. Who do you think that cost would be passed along to?

    1. The advertisers xD

      I agree with this, but I also think that they need more brand recognition. How many people have asked you if your phone is a Nexus? Not many, I’ll bet. Most average people don’t know about the Nexus line until some tech-geek like us introduces them to it.

      1. How many people need to know about the Nexus line though? As much as I like the line and I recommend it, I don’t feel like it is something necessary for the success of Android. Android’s success comes from variety and its ability to hit different niches.

    2. The overhead would be covered by revenues generated by the store.

  6. This is like asking if Amazon needs a retail store. The question is does Android need it’s own retail store. Google is primarily a software as a service company and not a manufacturer and they only build devices to set the bar. SAAS is the future and this is where Apple and Microsoft will become commodities. Every day we’re getting closer to the hardware hitting a plateau and the web apps taking over as our main focus. Think dummy terminals.

    1. The difference between Amazon and Google is that Google doesn’t do retail on a large-scale basis like Amazon does. Amazon sells a lot of products, whereas Google sells only a few products. Google could fill a small store with it’s products, Amazon could fill probably 3-4 Wal-Mart stores with the products it ships from fulfillment centers.

  7. I’d rather they put the money into Official Accessories for the Nexus devices and a large Customer Service and Technical Assistance department.

    1. And if there are such things as shipping engineers or logistics engineers, how about 100 of those too.

    2. An expanding portion of any business pays for itself, or it is generally not worthwhile. If Google Stores look to be successful, it would be not lack of access to funds that would hamper the enterprise.

      I’m guessing Google Stores would do little beyond cannibalizing existing sales. A few flagship stores in NYC, LA, Seattle, Tokyo, Beijing, etc. might function well to get new customers to join the google ecosytem — and as technological showcases, but I think with the massive number of vendors android has, current online and offline storefronts will always be the best way to shop. Each Google Store is going to need to be huge!

  8. I think it would be cool to see a Google store open. But I have been waiting even longer to see a Samsung store open in Ann Arbor right next to the Apple store. I think a Samsung store would have a better chance for success.

    Google has always dealt with everything online. Being an online retailer could pose complications with actual stores. And most people see the trouble they have keeping the newest “Nexus” devices in stock online, they would always have empty shelves at the stores. it’s a good idea/dream but I really don’t think Google could pull it off. Just like how Google left it to the OEMs to make Android accessible to millions, they should leave it to them to open stores to sell it

  9. They’re way ahead of you: http://i.imgur.com/E92YxQu.jpg

  10. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d like to see a Google store. I live near an Apple store and it is so cool and convenient. Plus, we all use Google, so why shouldn’t they have a store? It would open up a lot of jobs.

    1. Cool maybe, but every Apple store I’ve ever been in was a zoo and the service was really quite snobby and I used to buy a lot of Apple products, they pushed me away with the whole, “this is what you want and need” marketing strategy

  11. The thing I hate about the MS store is they made it an exact duplicate of the Apple store. I found it really depressing to see a company that once pushed its way around resort to a cheap ripoff.

    On the Google side, as you say, they have the issue of OEM favoritism to deal with. They could go the route of only selling Nexus devices in the store and the OEM’s handle the marketing of their self-branded devices as they do now.

    However, if they do so, I think Google really needs to decide to change their identity. Their current strength is in software, services, and content. They’re pretty weak when it comes to hardware, retail, and marketing. Becoming strong and independent in those areas will put them in conflict with the Android OEMs. They seem to want to avoid this, as we’ve seen how they’ve handled the Motorola acquisition. If they really wanted to push hard in that direction, I think we’d have seen or at least heard of a potential Motorola made Nexus device by now.

    1. How did they make it exactly like the Apple store? The MS Store at the Houston Galleria is so cool!! They have Kinect Dance there and I go and play. LoL!! If anything it resembles the Sony Store. Mainly because they sell similar products.

      I don’t see anything on how they’re trying to be like Apple with that particular store.

      1. OK. Maybe different malls are setting them up differently. The one I’ve been to here on Long Island looks so much like the Apple store, that it took me a minute to notice the incongruity of the MS logo.

    2. A cheap ripoff user talking about MS being a cheap ripoff…how ironic

      1. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

        1. A knockoff complaining about a knockoff…hilarious

          1. The iPhone uses a shitty closed OS with limited features and no choice while Android is an open source OS with more features in 2.3 than iOS even has now and you think Android is the knock-off? Please.

            I bet you creamed your pants when they announced the notification bar and panorama mode, because it’s not like those features were already available for another OS -_-

            All you do is troll Android sites and the reason you do that is due to your Android envy. We have much nicer phones than you, so you try and make yourself feel better by trolling. Some people deal with post-purchase dissonance by conciling with other users who bought the same product but you choose to troll. As I said before, whatever helps you sleep at night.

        2. He probably sleeps with his iPhone because it’s so smooth and shiny

          1. I bet he has a Steve Jobs wallpaper.

  12. Only if they opened up the Nexus lineup to more than just one OEM per device. If they had multiple handsets and tablets from a variety of OEMs, they’d have enough to stock the shelves and showcase Android in its purity. No favoritism that way either, everyone gets a place at the table. If HTC or any other “fill in company name here” wants to open their own retail store for their branded phones, so be it.

  13. I think if they opened a retail store it could sell all the high end android devices with unlocked bootloaders and the ability to have stock android put on your device

    1. To do that they would have to sell it un-subsidized. Meaning advertising phones in the $500-600+ range, something that a lot of people(US wise at least, I’m unsure of the bootloader situation outside) would not be up for. The subsidies all come from the wireless provider and they’re not going to subsidize something they don’t like(such as unlocked bootloaders).

  14. A Google store would be cool, but I think it would take away from the Android experience.

  15. What would be the big deal if they offered up a slew of flagship handsets in their window displays? Here is Nexus phone, galaxy s3, htc one x, optimus G, Xperia, Razr Maxx… just like at any mobile store? That would avoid any “favoritism” conflict.

    1. It kind of defeats the point of being a Google branded store. It would just seem like an ordinary mobile store, with fewer options.

      1. They all run android, isnt android a Google product? I store of only strictly nexus devices would be the size of a kiosk. A lot of people don’t even recognize that a One X and a GS3 both run the same OS. I’m not saying flood the store of all android phones. It can be primarily nexus devices and chrome books and such. But I don’t see how a small section or display in the store that housed some of Google’s “partners'” best products would hurt. I think it would help, especially for the person who comes into the store and doesn’t necessarily like the Nexus 4, they could turn around and perhaps find test our Razr Maxx or Gs3; instead of being like meh n walking into the apple store across the street

  16. Opening a brick-and-mortar space would be a really bad idea, potentially opening a can of headaches for Google as that may imply a point for customer support for their users. (As in, “im locked out my gmail account…”) And we all know that Google isn’t exactly known for that type of “support”.

    And if a store is opened without a support area, it can infer to the customer a half-ass experience.

  17. I would love a Google store here in Atlanta! And outside of the supply constraints around the holiday, I haven’t had any problems with ordering tablets from Google Play.

  18. they are already selling subsidized devices. retail stores will just further decrease their profits per device. so no, they don’t need one. investing on brand identity and brand presence (ads) would be more suitable for them.

  19. I would LOVE to work at a Google store. They could put one in Memorial Mall here in Houston and I would work there. =.D

    They can create jobs. =.P

  20. Google needs to open a Google Store next door to every Apple store. No one would ever enter a Apple store when they could go to Google instead.

  21. I think it would be dope….

  22. If Google had their own retail store, at least where I live, it would help people catch up with everything Google.

  23. If Google can build an airport they can build a store.

  24. its a little soon for a google store dont you think? with half a dozen products… its a little soon to even write about it. they cant even get accessories out for the products they have today.

    1. It could sell devices from OEM’s… Samsung’s Chromebook, as well as the Galaxy, etc. You could have a pretty decent, and interesting, store by including a good selection of the top sellers from the various OEM’s.

  25. “Likewise, the whole ChromeBook experiment doesn’t seem to be skyrocketing into the atmosphere.”;
    What are you talking about?
    There are more Chromebooks sold than Windows 8 Laptops.
    So it seems:
    Users rather have a laptop with nothing more than Chrome,
    than a Laptop with Internet Explorer (insert random IE sucks argument here).
    I guess that says a lot !

  26. Google TV is off to a rocky start as user adoption is slow and developer interest is waning.
    OUYA anyone?

  27. I don’t think a Google “Store” makes sense at this point. They don’t have enough “vanilla google” products to justify it, and as mentioned, if they offer products from some manufacturers and not others it could be an issue for the OEMs.

    Instead, it might be cooler to have a “Google Showcase” setup instead of a retail store. With models of some of the latest devices, new technology features, and live demonstrations. They could always setup net enabled kiosks to let people order products directly.

  28. Google needs to buy Verizon. Verizon and all the crapware but great call quality is harming the brand. If Google could sell clean Google OS phones this would not be an issue.

    1. Breaking News!! In order to buy something, there has to be someone willing to sell.

  29. I think it is a fantastic idea and have been thinking this for a while. However, I don’t think it should be a “Google” store. I think they should partner with their OEM’s to make an android store and find a way to get some chromeos products in there. This way, google isn’t footing the entire cost. In addition, all OEM’s have an equal say. Since all OEM’s are tied into the store, they can all service direct from the store. Essentially it would be an OHA store.

    This would absolutely crush Apple. Because of the sheer amount of companies in the OHA, the huge amount of capital would allow for the stores to rapidly expand to multiple cities around the world.The only drawback is that the genius’s would truly have to be genius’s. Being familiar with a multitude of custom skins and features across the android ecosystem in addition to chromeOS products.

  30. Google’s main focus is for people to use the Internet. As much as I’d love a store, I don’t think it’s at all likely.

  31. i did read ther was an opening of an Android store at Australia -i do not know if google owned – and I do not know if it goes well.

    But I think Apple stores are not selling more than the old Apple shops, they only closed them.

    The marketing work of old Apple shops is not the same than the Apple stores, because some of old Apple shops have sold to their contacts but Apple shops employees are not slaesmen and women out of their working hours as were the owners of Apple shops.

    Every other brand is selled everywhere – if they can arrive – and shops like to sell Android products, and probably soon Linux and ChromeOS ones, as MS is going to make MS shops and the others want to keep selling electronics.

    Google can have an online shop, as one more as Amazon, or any other one, but phisical shops are not needed for their business model. Perhaps some points of show all the Android and ChromeOS devices at megalopolis as LA, NY, London and some others with more than 10.000.000 people areas, as a way to show their products but without being a risk for the competition.

  32. the rule of headlines would say, “no”

  33. “Samsung and ASUS have been the only OEMs willing to give it a fair shot as of late, though a couple of more are rumored to have products coming in the near future.”

    ASUS has never made a Chromebook. I believe you meant to type Acer but overall this is a great article and enjoyable read.

    1. Also, Lenovo and HP have announced they will make Chromebooks. On top of that, the best selling laptop on Amazon has been a Chromebook for months now, and Acer has said that their Chromebooks are between 5-10% of their total shipments to the US. I’d say that Chromebooks are picking up quite nicely.

  34. They can’t even keep an inventory in a virtual store! How are they supposed to stock brick and mortar shelves?

  35. I’ll work as a Google genius :D

  36. I’m working on a few Android storefront ideas: PerfectAndroid, AndroidDiscoveryCenters, AndroidCafeStations…

    The BestBuy retail business model is dead; to grow and stay in business, a retail store has to offer unique services. Like: show ReallyCoolDemos and have SmartphoneCompetition. And the business model should incorporate Configure-To-Order.

    Showcasing is more important than ever, as evident in new retail establishments popping up all over the world, so “brick and mortar” is not going away.

    I want to help create thousands of Android storefronts all over the world, so please help me spread the word around to interested parties all over the world.

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