With the release of the Pixel phone and a growing collection of Google-branded hardware, Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL, NASDAQ:GOOG) is branching into retail. Last Friday, it launched its first Google Shop, a store-within-a-store in partnership with Best Buy Co Inc (NYSE:BBY).
I was in Mississauga (a suburb of Toronto) to attend the store launch. Janelle Fischer, Google’s Global Head of Retail Design, spoke to the invited audience and cut the ribbon.
Best Buy and Partners Proved the Mini Store Works
If you’ve been in a Best Buy store, you’ve undoubtedly seen the “mini stores” set up within. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) kicked off the trend, setting up dedicated spaces that exclusively featured Apple products. Tables were set up where customers could try out the new MacBook and iPads, with Apple-trained specialists on hand to answer questions.
The concept proved popular. Even for a company like AAPL that runs its own Apple Store retail empire, the mini shops let it expand its reach at a much lower cost, while taking advantage of the foot traffic in Best Buy stores. Other companies followed with their own mini stores, including Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT).
Google Shop: Where Apple Went, But Better
It’s clear that considerable effort was put into designing the Google Shop and making it a destination space with Best Buy stores.
Janelle Fischer headed up the effort and, according to her LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) profile, she spent three years working for Apple in its global retail channel, so she’s seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t in these store-within-a-store locations. During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, she explained the company is putting the same attention to detail into this retail experience as it does in designing the UI for Google software.
The result definitely one-ups Apple and its mini stores.
The Google Shop is essentially an enclosed space, not just a collection of tables. Materials are premium and inviting, with plenty of warm wood and gray fabric surfaces. Big screens are everywhere, including a massive nine-screen installation powered by a tablet where customers can interact with services such as Google Earth. A swath of Google products are laid out for hands-on use, including Chromebooks, Chromecasts, Daydream View VR headsets and, of course, the new Pixel phone.
In fact, there’s an interactive wall made out of dozens of connected Pixel phones with coordinated displays that is particularly eye-catching.
Customers can try out the products and there are additional demo stations set up for the VR headsets, plus a faux living room corner to play with the Chromecast Ultra — including Pixel phones so you can experiment with casting, hands on. Naturally, there are specially trained Google Guides on hand to explain and demo everything — and they’re working for Google, not Best Buy.
The Google Shop also offers upholstered, modular seating that can be moved around as needed. Ms. Fischer explained the company will offer more than just product demos; there will be seasonal and special events, plus product tutorials.
In short, Google Shop takes it up a notch (or two) over the Apple Mini Store, with a more welcoming and clearly designated space, greater interactivity and more programming.
I don’t know if all Google Shop locations will get the same preferential positioning, but at the Best Buy in Mississauga where the concept launched, the Google Shop is located in prime territory. It’s the first thing you see when you enter the front doors of the store. If you want to check out the Apple mini store, you have to walk past the Google Shop…
When Will Google Shop Come to the U.S.?
Google has been teasing pop-up stores in the U.S., but there’s no official word if, or when, the Google Shop will cross the border to American Best Buy locations. However, it’s like only a matter of time. The growing line of Google-branded hardware shows the company’s aspirations, and online sales can only go so far.
By launching Google Shop in Canada, management has the opportunity to gauge reaction and tweak the store design, with the advantages of a market that’s very similar to the U.S. and the same retail partner it would use stateside — call it a soft launch.
Based on the reaction of the crowd at the Mississauga opening, it was a very successful one.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. He is an independent freelance editor for Best Buy Canada’s Plug-in blog, but is not an employee of Best Buy.