Does Google’s retail debut mark an expansion in strategy?

The company will open its first physical store this summer
Does Google’s retail debut mark an expansion in strategy?

At a time when many retailers are scaling back their physical stores after the shift to online sales during the pandemic, Google decided an unexpected expansion in its strategy. The internet giant is moving beyond pop-up stores to launch a dedicated retail space of its own.

Google recently unveiled plans to launch this summer its first brick-and-mortar store in Chelsea, New York City, where it has been steadily growing its office presence during the past decade. 

The store will carry Pixel, Nest and Fitbit hardware that consumers can either buy directly or pick up as an online order. Much like Apple’s stores, there will be support staff on hand as well as workshops to help newcomers.

Why is Google opening a physical store?

Google noted that the retail debut was an “important next step” in its hardware strategy, and it expects to shape future experiences based on feedback. So, Google is starting small, aiming at using the physical store as a prototype before moving to further development. 

In the past, Google has run pop-up shops in major cities for product launches, while in 2018 it considered opening a store in Chicago but backed off the idea a year later.

The company has not indicated if it plans to further expand its physical presence, nor has it revealed the exact date of its first physical store opening. It has only said that its strategy is to meet with customers to get their feedback as it continues “to explore and experiment with the possibilities of a physical retail space and build upon the experience.”

“Our expectations of how we shop have changed significantly, and forever, due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jason Rosenthal, VP of Direct Channels & Membership at Google, said. “Many customers still want to experience hardware before they buy it – and learn what it feels like, sounds like and looks like in their hand or on a desk. But in-store shopping might look a bit different than what customers are used to, and that’s okay.”

Remote work boosting tech sales

But why is Google expanding to physical retailing now? The company’s move comes at a time when the Google Store has failed to gain meaningful traction online as it competes with Amazon and other platforms.

The disparity between Amazon and Google is particularly evident when you look at research that points to the former as the primary shopping search destination online, even as the latter holds the lead overall.

The move could also be motivated by the booming sales of laptops and home tech devices, driven by the remote work during and post pandemic. Google has a series of devices that could appeal to that audience and could be aiming at strengthening their brand also via a physical presence.

Competitors’ physical presence

Taking a look into Google’s competitors, Apple has more than 500 retail stores across the world.  In the U.S., it has 271 stores, including nine in New York City alone.

Excluding Whole Foods Market, which Amazon purchased several years ago, Amazon has six kinds of stores to sell products, including two Amazon Books and a Amazon 4-Star store in Manhattan.

Microsoft had chosen an opposite approach, closing Microsoft Store physical locations and switching to serve customers from Microsoft corporate facilities and remotely providing sales, training, and support.

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