Google set to open shops: could tech giants save the high street?

Google

Search giant reported to be following Apple’s lead with own-branded stores to promote its products

LAST UPDATED AT 14:45 ON Mon 18 Feb 2013

COULD the beleaguered high street have found an unlikely saviour? It has been reported that internet search giant Google is planning to open bricks-and-mortar stores in the US by the end of 2013 and some are suggesting that it could be part of a worldwide trend for internet retailers to establish a physical presence.
 
The Google stores would rival those of competitors like Apple and Microsoft and would sell Google hardware, such as its Nexus phones and Chromebook computers.
 
The plans were revealed by tech website 9to5google.com, which reported that the company was eager to get "upcoming products into the hands of prospective customers". It added that the company, which has branched out into physical products in recent years, felt that people "need to get hands-on experience with its products before they are willing to purchase".
 
The forthcoming launch of Google's hi-tech glasses may have provided the tipping point. "The leadership thought consumers would need to try Google Glass first hand to make a purchase," said 9to5google.com. "Without being able to use them first hand, few non-techies would be interested in buying Google’s glasses... From there, the decision to sell other Google-branded products made sense."
 
Google already has counters in Best Buy stores in the US and in PC World in the UK. However, the Daily Mail notes that "they tend to advise customers rather than push sales".
 
If the reports are true, Google would be the latest tech firm to open its own shops. "It was no surprise to see Apple's arch rival Samsung decide to launch its own retail stores on the back of the launch of the hugely successful Galaxy S3 last year," reports the International Business Times.
 
It adds that the move could give Google’s smartphone operation a "major boost" and help it "reclaim" the Android operating system that it developed but which is now associated with manufacturers like Samsung, ZTE, Huawei and HTC.
 
Going into retail certainly worked for Apple, notes Tech Crunch. "Google is still missing a key ingredient that has helped the iPad gain enormous consumer traction, and this latest rumour indicates it's listening to the words of its biggest rival about how to possibly finally come up with a significant breakthrough for Android tablet market share."
 
But tech website CNet warns that Google have to avoid apeing Apple and embrace its own, slightly nerdish, reputation. "The purpose of a retail store isn't merely to sell. It's to create street theatre. Apple has its own version. Google must find its own too," writes Chris Matyszczyk.
 
"Instead of the now almost cliched clean lines and permanent white, it should make its stores look like excitable, sophisticated college playrooms, where books about dragons and vast Hulk hands are lying about and episodes of Star Trek and Game of Thrones are playing on huge screens."
 
Google might not be the only online giant looking at opening stores. Last year Amazon boss Jeff Bezos hinted that he would like to open bricks-and-mortar shops. He told CBS: "We want to do something that is uniquely Amazon, and if we can find that idea, and we haven't found that idea yet, we would love to open Amazon stores."
 
According to the Sunday Times, the trend could help save the old-fashioned concept of shopping in bricks-and-mortar buildings. The paper reports that many internet businesses now want physical stores to act as "brand embassies". However, the stores are less likely to be found on the high street than in 'super' shopping malls. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.