After years of flirting with the idea of opening a physical store, Google announced its first-ever permanent store location last month. Today, June 17, is the official grand opening and Google celebrated with a blog post describing what the store looks like.
Officially this is “The Google Store Chelsea” and it is located in New York City at 15th and 9th, also called the headquarters of Google’s New York City campus, right across from Chelsea Market. Unlike the stark white Apple Stores that Google is chasing, the Google Store has a natural look, with warm wooden walls and furniture. Whimsical bendy bars shoot out of the floor and decorate the store, looking like a giant version of a bead maze from a pediatrician’s office. The store was designed by Ivy Ross, Google’s VP of hardware design.
What can you buy in a Google Store? It is essentially an offline version of store.google.com. That means it will sell Pixel phones, earbuds, Pixelbook laptops, Chromecasts, Google TVs, Stadia controllers and Nest-branded speakers, smart displays, thermostats, smoke detectors, cameras, Wi-Fi routers, and doorbells. Google also notes that it will have “experts on hand to help visitors get the most out of their device, such as troubleshooting a problem, repairing a cracked Pixel screen, or help with installations.”
“Sandbox” areas for Pixel, Stadia, and Nest will inform customers about the benefits of each product line. The Pixel area shows off the phone’s camera technology with different lighting effects; the Stadia area is one of the few places where the public can actually try out the game streaming service; and the Nest area is a large living room full of smart home devices. A “workshop space” will host regular events and classes. There is also a rotating exhibit called the “Google Imagination Space”, a “5-meter-tall circular glass structure” that surrounds a visitor with several vertical screens. Right now, Google Translate is pitching and visitors can “experience real-time translation of your speech into 24 languages at once, then learn how it all happens at the back end using various Google technologies.”
A one-time store or the start of a Googley retail empire?
It’s hard to tell if this is a one-off vanity store for Google’s NYC headquarters or if Google is get serious about retail. One of the co-authors of the blog post is “Nathan Allen, Head of Store Design & Special Projects,” which is a very interesting title for someone at a single store company. According to Allen’s LinkedIn, he was titled “Head of Design for Experiential & Special Projects” until two months ago, but “Head of Store Design” apparently brings in enough work to be his full-time job now. The blog post also notes that during the development of the store, Google “built a full mockup of the space in our store hangar in Mountain View.” Again, having a “shop hangar” to experiment with sounds like part of a process rather than a one-time thing.
Apple has more than 500 physical Apple Stores, but the company is also a hardware juggernaut. It’s not clear whether Google’s limited and inconsistent hardware selection can support a store. Microsoft is in a similar boat to Google, delivering ambitious low-volume hardware in an ecosystem overrun with compromised partner devices. Microsoft started its store idea in 2009 and finally came out of space in 2020.
Regardless of Google’s future store plans, this Google Store is going to be a special case. Google owns this entire building, so it doesn’t risk much as a retail venture since real estate costs add up anyway. Google is turning 5,000 square feet of the ground floor of what could be office space into a public store. If the idea works, the company might build more stores. If not, the store can hang around as a vanity project or become an office space again.
I wonder what happens when you walk into the store and yell “Hey, Google.”