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Inside the Google Shop: First impressions of Google's bricks and mortar store

Over the past decade or so we’ve grown accustomed to traditional retail giants launching online sites. Recently however, we’ve seen major internet brands go against the grain, turning their hands to bricks and mortar.

First rumours circulated about Amazon acquiring a shop opposite the Empire State Building. Then Funky Pigeon followed suit, opening a branch at Charing Cross. This week, news surfaced of the Google Shop.

Given this is Google’s first ever branded shop, we thought we’d get down there to take a look. Located on Tottenham Court Road, it’s actually a concession inside Currys PC World and we were a little surprised not to see more Google branding; in fact we wondered whether we’d got the right store.

It was also surprisingly quiet, but as soon as we clocked the interactive doodle wall we knew we were in the right place. Visitors can use digital spray cans to create designs on the wall, and there was also the Portal, a massive screen allowing customers to effectively fly over the earth to their chosen destination.

There was of course also a range of Android phones and tablets, Chromebook laptops and a number of smartwatches, which staff were demonstrating, however to us this felt almost secondary to everything else that was going on.

Speaking to a Google expert in the store, we later learned that the shop is also to host regular workshops on issues like online security as well as virtual space camps teaching children the basics of coding. The space may also be used as a training tool for teachers to keep up to date on education tools.

In fact the whole thing had a very family-focused, educational feel. It definitely felt in keeping with Google’s recent efforts to become more child-friendly. In fact it felt like the emphasis was much more on this than the products they were showcasing.

This in turn serves to unite their online and offline presence nicely. We noted that it was a relatively small space (although they have revealed plans to open up two more branches in Fulham and Thurrock), and if the purpose of this shop was to simply promote these products, then it would hardly seem worth the effort or money, but when considered alongside its wider aims as a brand, it makes sense.

It will be interesting to see if it’s a pattern that other online brands follow. For Google it’s a move that, whilst in its very early days, shows a clear thought process. I think as long as brands don’t simply follow this route for the sake of it, instead using it to strengthen their core values, then it can only be a good thing.

When discussion first arose on Amazon’s physical store, it might have initially seemed a bit of a shock. A bricks and mortar store seemed a bit lost on a business that has built its success, if not its entire reputation, on competitive pricing and fast shipping. But on further consideration it could be a good way to introduce more delivery options, with a click and collect service.

Similarly, the Funky Pidgeon outlet has a terminal where customers can personalise a card – handyfor those caught off-guard at the last minute. The customer can then take the opportunity to stock up on any stationery they may be low on.

All three brands are using their offline stores to complement their core business, by focusing on offering something useful for their customers, and it looks like Google is leading the way in this.

On reflection though, I’d say the company that stands to benefit most from this particular foray into the physical world is probably Currys PC World. Sacrificing a relatively small portion of its floor space in return for the publicity, interest and extra visitors this is likely to bring seems like a fairly good deal.

Ben Austin is the CEO of Absolute Digital Media

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