The Google Shop proves bricks and mortar retail still has a vital role to play for brands, say agencies

Google has followed in the footsteps of Amazon, Apple and eBay to open its first physical retail store.

The Google Shop, a concession in electrical retailer Currys' Tottenham Court Road branch, is set to sell its full range of products with staff members on hand to talk consumers through devices and apps.

Announcing the store today, James Elias, the UK marketing director for Google, acknowledged that despite Google being a digital brand, it was important to offer people "a place where they can play, experiment and learn about all of what Google has to offer".

The Drum spoke to industry figures from Havas, Ogilvy & Mather, Fitch and more to find out what the move means for Google.

Amy Kean, Head of Futures, Havas Media

First and now Google! This is a very obvious move that once again reinforces the importance of experience, depth and human interaction in building a brand. Pop ups and temporary bricks and mortar are becoming a mainstay of modern communications - eBay already led the charge with this some time ago.

The fact remains that despite the many digital evangelists regularly announcing the death of all other media, even the most digital of brands need a multi-platform approach to play a more meaningful role across the customer journey.

James Whatley, digital director, Ogilvy & Mather London

Google’s continual experimentation on how it gets its products and services in front of every day consumers should be applauded.

Buying a Chromecast or a Nexus device through the Play Store is fine for today’s tech-savvy consumer but what about everyone else? Allowing potential (and non-geeky) customers a good ‘hands on’ experience, as well as providing tutorials from in-house experts, means Google can be a step closer to the more traditional retail experience.

Admittedly this isn’t the newest idea for the global giant, however it does prove that there is still value in good old high street bricks and mortar.

Jim Whyte, head of insights, Fitch

Google have taken a cautious and considered approach to creating a physical retail presence. The 'Chromezone' they've operated for a couple of years in the same outlet of Currys PC World has allowed them to develop their approach and that will pay dividends now.

This move illustrates how physical retail still has a vital, if changing role to play, even for primarily digital brands like Google. It is in these stores that customers can learn more about the brand's products through engaging and entertaining experiences, and where attentive service can best provide personalised solutions for individual customers.

The future of retail does not lie in either physical or digital channels but in seamlessly integration of both.

James Poletti, head of digital strategy, RPM

Chalk this up as the start of an exploding trend. While some online companies, like took a lateral step into physical due to the tactile demands of their product, we’re surely about to see the ‘experience’ of brands previously bound in virtual space exploding to life on the high street.

Driving this is the power modern customers have to dictate brand perception and the onus this then places on brands to deliver brand-defining experiences. Physical can be the focus for community and the organising principle in a customer journey that ping-pongs from experience store to mobile, desktop to high street.

However, it remains to be seen whether or not a concession in PC World will lead to the rich brand-driven customer experience built around Apple’s celebrated high street outposts.

Simon Myers, partner, Prophet

This is a logical move for Google as it looks to go beyond its search engine and online heritage and really demonstrate to consumers that it has a range of services – software and hardware – that we should be considering.

The incredible success of the Apple store experience in shaping perceptions of the company and its products, allowing people in to touch and play and ask questions, as well as making buying painless as possible, means that Google management have a reassuring if ambitious benchmark.

At the same time this follows a trend of blurring the online/offline world – its bricks and clicks now – see recent Argos revamp – not one or the other.

Sebastian Dreyfus, managing partner, Rosetta Europe

This is another example of how the lines between the online and offline worlds are becoming blurred. In fact, the hypothesis being that real business success is augmented increasingly only when both worlds feed each other seamlessly.

This will now up the stakes in how retail evolves using digital capability to drive more engaging and personalised experiences. For example, iBeacon, RFID Tagging, Smart phone activation and geo targeting - it will also give brands the opportunity to explore and experiment in real-time, giving businesses and retail leaders the chance to optimise their retail spaces for the benefit of their customers.

Brian Jensen, head of innovation, OgilvyOne London

The news that Google has opened a shop isn't really surprising. They've repeatedly talked about their desire to close the gap between desire and purchase. So far, they've used technology to do so.

It will be interesting to see how a largely faceless brand experience will now rely on retail staff and fittings to convey a Google experience. While Apple had sensory elements and a philosophy to online retail to play with, Google really hasn't. There's seemingly little added benefit for consumers: Google products have sat in stores, ready to be played with, for a while. Will Google staff copy Apple's Genius bar and staff the concession with experts or even better, layer an additional value added product demonstration or customisation.

What remains to be seen is if Google plans to disrupt any of the dominating tech retailing conventions Apple created years ago — something a Curry’s shop on Tottenham Ct. Road is unlikely to do.

Allan Blair, head of strategy at Tribal Worldwide, London

This is a statement of intent from the digital giant. A powerful experience that connects all the different strands of their empire in one exciting and immersive shopping experience. The only brand in the world that can challenge Apple for lifestyle dominance.

While in many ways it’s also a fairly traditional way to approach retail, jumping into physical retail is an interesting move for a virtual brand like Google. But it’s just a first step; it will be interesting to see how they take this forward and innovate. Can they revolutionise physical retail in the way they have the internet?

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