Google wants its very first permanent physical retail space to be more than just a gadget store.
The 5,000-square-foot flagship, which opens on June 17 in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, will feature elaborate demo stations, lounge-like areas for customers waiting on tech help and a central event space for panels, lessons and performances. The goal is to create a space that functions as a sort of community hub and experiential site at a time when more and more people are doing their straightforward shopping online.
“There’s a massive shift to online. But what we’ve found is that people still want that person-to-person connection. They want to come in and touch and try things,” said Janell Fischer, Google’s vp of customer experience and retail, in an interview with Adweek. “For us, having people that can really provide all the knowledge about the products, how they all work together and give them that one-to-one experience, that is most important to us.”
The opening will mark Google’s first successful foray into brick-and-mortar retail after years of temporary pop-ups and terminated plans for a flagship space. Situated in the same building as Google’s New York office—its biggest outside of its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.—Fischer said the location near Google-owned Chelsea Market and a Starbucks Reserve Roastery made it an ideal placement for foot traffic.
“It was really an amazing opportunity for us, as we’ve been thinking about developing a permanent retail space for a few years now,” Fischer said.
The in-store features include elaborately staged living rooms designed to show off Google’s Home and Nest smart devices; an entertainment room full of product demos for the search giant’s cloud gaming service, Stadia; a photo booth room demonstrating the Pixel camera; and a play area for kids to hang out while their parents are shopping. Google envisions the event space offering everything from panels and tech workshops to family story times, Nest-based cooking lessons and YouTube concerts.
Fischer said the decisions about what kinds of experiences to emphasize within the store were made based on what has resonated in Google’s various pop-up activations throughout the years, as well as tests conducted in Google’s retail hangar in Mountain View. From that research, the team culled three types of attractions people tend to seek out in modern retail: immersive experiences; how-to events; and workshops and shareable takeaways, including social media-friendly draws like quirky Google merchandise or photos from the Google Pixel photo booth.
“We want to see that people are having fun, getting educated and really feel like they are getting help from Google, which is a big promise of the store,” Fischer said. “When you have a store with lots of screens, giving people tactile things to touch and to play with, giving them a sense of books and props and puzzles and things that you would find in your natural home, like how you live, it starts to pull down barriers that people might have and makes them feel more comfortable with the different things that we have to offer.”
Google isn’t the first big tech company to pitch its hardware stores as a space for demonstrations, workshops and events. Apple overhauled its iconic retail stores in 2016 to place more emphasis on things like creative workshops and entrepreneurial lessons as it sought to get customers more invested in the various features of their devices and thus more likely to upgrade them every couple years.
While Google declined to reveal whether it has plans to expand its stores beyond the New York flagship at the moment, Fischer said Google will watch the space carefully and monitor which features are popular as it strategizes around its future retail plans.
“This is not a short-term strategy. For us, it is very much of a long-term strategy,” Fischer said. “It gives us the opportunity to test and try to find the right model to get behind.”