Its first is in the Big Apple, New York City
Google is a latecomer when it comes to hardware retail. Apple’s first retail outlet was opened two decades ago, in May 2001, in not one but two locations, both not hub cities: McClean, Virginia and Glendale, California. Google’s retail debut, simply called Google Store is in Manhattan, New York, in the still-happening neighbourhood of Chelsea, just across from the famed Chelsea Market. In fact, in the same building as Google’s NYC HQ is situated. Adjacent to what’s known as the Meatpacking District, the swanky glass-fronted Google retail temple is in the company of some of the big names associated with the city: Diane von Furstenberg, Anthroplogie (just opposite, in fact), and Kiehl’s, and restaurants such as Buddakan (in which Carrie and Big’s wedding rehearsal dinner from the first Sex and the City movie was shot). Perhaps what’s more interesting is that an Apple Store is situated nearby too, less than 100m away, and on the same thoroughfare: 9th Avenue. With the Samsung store and Tesla showroom nearby, too, Chelsea is geared up to be quite the tech district.
In a blog post, Google wrote that the eponymous store is “a space where customers can experience our hardware and services in a helpful way.” It sounds very Apple, of course. In a press release from 2001, the late Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “Rather than just hear about megahertz and megabytes, customers can now learn and experience the things they can actually do with a computer, like make movies, burn custom music CDs, and publish their digital photos on a personal website.” There is that word “experience”. In a world where online is the preferred place to shop, what one gets out of visiting a physical store other than the purchase considered is what makes or breaks the store. Perhaps echoing Apple twenty years ago, Google said it wanted their space for consumers to come and try all of its devices and services that show their synergy, and how they’ll work together in different places.
But experience isn’t just a beautiful space or good service. There’s also the component, “theatre of retail” (stand outside an Apple store as far away as you can, and look at the action within—performance indeed!). Google is so serious about making their debut store work, they built a full-size mockup in a hangar in Mountain View, California to give their ideas the necessary trial runs.The Google Store is divided into rooms or “sandboxes” (to suggest play?) that offer situations in which their gadgets might be used. There is even a soundproofed area to audition their various Home/Nest products. One particularly experiential feature is a striking 5-metre-tall circular glass enclosure that is known as the Google Imagination Space. At this spot, shoppers can enjoy an immersive exploration of Google’s newest technologies. For the opening, the company’s Translate service is in full display. Speak any language (almost, anyway—Google can’t translate Aramaic!) and you will be able listen to real-time translation, in 24 languages (about 6,500 are spoken in the world today), while learning how this is possible. Playing can go hand-in-hand with purchasing.
Despite the popularity of the their search engine, Google is not really known for their products, at least not here, where they are not as widely sold as in the US. The store’s lure is that you can “shop the latest Chromecasts, Phones, Speakers & Smart Displays at Google Store. Buy Pixel 5, Nest Audio, Chromecast with Google TV, Nest Wifi, and more,” according to pre-opening marketing blurbs. And to that, add sending what you already own for on-site servicing or tweaking. The shopping and learning is done inside the 465-square-metre space, clearly designed to encourage discovery. As it looks less cold and sparse and more homey than the Apple Store, there is a good chance this is where you’ll be able to easily while away an afternoon. Now that the prospect of travel is still dim, we are unlikely able to see the Google Store soon. It took Apple 16 years to open its first free-standing flagship here (and the first in Southeast Asia), on Orchard Road. For Google/Android fans, the wait for our own Google Store here would probably be just as long.
Google Store is at 76 9th Ave, New York, NY10011. It opens tomorrow (New York time). Screen grabs: Google