Jonathan Prynn, Consumer Business Editor
30 Sep 2011
It is the ultimate brand of the internet era. But today Google embraces a more traditional form of retail technology for the first time in its short history.
The world’s first “Google store” opened not in California but in the less glamorous setting of PC World in Tottenham Court Road at 9am.
The 285sqft pop-up “shop within a shop”, which only sells Google’s Chromebook laptop and a few accessories such as headphones, will run for three months up to Christmas.
But if the low-key experiment is successful Google could follow its great rival Apple in opening permanent stores around the world.
Unlike the hugely hyped launch of the first Apple Store in Regent Street, very few customers were even aware of the Google shop – officially known as “the Chromezone” – and there were certainly no queues round the block.
Arvind Desikan, head of consumer marketing at Google UK, said: “It is our first foray into physical retail. This is a new channel for us and it’s still very, very early days. It’s something Google is going to play with and see where it leads.”
He said the company’s research had shown that 80 per cent of laptop sales are through shops.
He added: “We found anecdotally that when people tried the device and played with it, that made a huge difference to their understanding of what the Chromebook is all about. People will be able to go in and have a play with the devices. We want to see whether people understand what this device is all about and monitor their reaction when they try it out.”
To date the Samsung-made Chromebook, which costs £349 for the wi-fi only version and £399 for wi-fi and 3G, has only been available in the UK online from Amazon and PC World.
A second pop-up store will open at Lakeside shopping centre in Essex on October 7 and more pilot shops are planned around the world in the coming months. A spokeswoman said: “We’ve put a lot of effort into making it feel welcoming, homely and, dare I say it, ‘Googley’.”
The store is the latest stage in Google’s accelerating colonisation of London, where it now employs about 1,500 people.
As well as two large offices close to Victoria station, the company behind gmail, Google Earth and Google Street View has signed a deal to take 160,000sqft of space in the Central St Giles development in Midtown.
Google has also signed a lease for a seven-floor building in east London, where it will “incubate” new London based technology start-ups, as part of a government-backed expansion of the “Silicon Roundabout” area.