Google’s First Physical Store Is Very Google-y

Digital spray painting.

Courtesy of Google

Google is famous for offices that are elaborate if slightly chaotic, built around the idea that a productive work environment is also a playful one. Now the company appears to be testing whether that philosophy works in the retail world, too.

On Wednesday, Google unveiled its first real stab at a physical store—a “shop in a shop” located inside the Currys PC World store on Tottenham Court Road in London. Since 2011, Google had run small concession stands out of about 300 Dixons and Currys PC Worlds, but the new outpost is more ambitious. In addition to showcasing Google merchandise—Chromebooks, Chromecasts, Android phones, and so on—the space includes a “Doodle Wall” for customers to scribble on with digital spray paint, a “Chromecast Pod” for movie viewing, and a “Portal” for touring the planet via Google Earth. Google wants you to shop, but it also wants you to be entertained.

Google’s venture into physical retail comes as the broader online-shopping-verse has appeared to take interest in old-fashioned brick-and-mortar sales (“clicks for bricks,” if you will). Etsy, eBay, and Warby Parker are among the primarily online companies that have experimented with temporary pop-up stores in recent years. Back in October, rumors also abounded that Amazon would open its first physical store in a 470,000-square-foot property it had leased in Manhattan’s Midtown. (Later reports suggested that Amazon intended to use the space mainly for corporate offices.) Google reportedly plans to open two additional shops in England later this year.

Why this move from bricks to clicks and back to bricks? Industry research suggests that “omnichannel” customers—those who shop both online and in stores—spend 3.5 times more than other shoppers. Target has put out a similar figure in explaining its focus on online and mobile shopping, noting that customers who shop in-store and online generate three times the sales of other consumers.

Google, of course, isn’t a retailer in the same way that Target is, but it must think there are benefits to physical merchandising that can’t be had online. One of those is building relationships with customers. Google says it hopes to use its shop to “host regular classes and events for the public” on things like cybersecurity and the “connected lifestyle.” Down the line, the company says it might also offer “virtual space camps” to teach kids the basics of coding.

“We’re incredibly excited to launch this space,” Google spokesman James Elias said in a statement. “We think it’s a genuinely unique try-before-you-buy experience.” Presumably the company also thinks there will be enough conversion from “try” to “buy” to make the shop worth its while.