While the tech giant said it will deliver an immersive in-store experience, so far it is remaining coy about how it will do so.
Former Myer CEO Richard Umbers said a strong experiential offering will be needed to bring the brand to life.
“Google will learn first-hand how customers engage with their products, while at the same time building strong brand advocacy and loyalty,” he told Inside Retail.
“Customers instinctively engage with a brand across multiple channels, both physical and digital. They expect a different yet complementary experience, and each touchpoint adds to the richness and vitality of the brand.”
Umbers said a network of immersive and experiential stores will make the products and services feel more accessible to consumers and add a “human dimension” to the brand.
While more and more brands are moving towards the direct-to-consumer (DTC) model in a bid to drive higher-margin sales, the power really comes from control of the brand conversation, according to Nicole Miranda, director of client services at creative agency Spinach.
“The brand owns the opportunity to provide deeper connections with customers, and potentially, a community of brand advocates for the long term,” she told Inside Retail.
“It’s the ability to own the end-to-end customer journey while driving sales.”
Experimentation through pop-ups
Simon Stacey, creative director and studio head at design agency YourStudio, is surprised that it has taken Google this long to establish a permanent store, having dabbled with pop-ups for close to a decade.
“The Google Hardware pop-ups in NYC set an early vision for where they could go – a hands-on, human-centric introduction to the opportunities of connected IOT tech, leading on an experiential approach that cleverly combined analogue and digital,” he said.
“The subsequent Google Pixel 2 installation at Flipside, Selfridge’s, went in the other direction and demonstrated the brand’s ability to deliver truly immersive product experiences as well.”
Stacey believes that if Google successfully combines human storytelling with leading sensorially charged activations, “it could be truly engaging”.
Google vs Apple
Google said the store opening is an important step in its “hardware journey” of providing helpful assistance to customers, with personalised advice as well as how-to workshops for broader knowledge sharing.
“We’ll have experts on hand to help visitors get the most out of their device, such as troubleshooting an issue, fixing a cracked Pixel screen or helping with installations,” Google said in a statement.
But Stacey believes the tech giant will need to do a lot more than fix cracked Pixel screens if it wants to compete with arch rival Apple.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s 20 years since Apple set a new benchmark for 21st century retail experiences – a simple, bold and memorable approach that has continually evolved with people’s needs and tech innovation during that time,” he said.
“The stores are now places to create, to learn and to connect as part of the brand community first, and to buy products second. It’s an experience built on the most exemplary standards of customer service, with an aesthetic and format model that has been copied (Microsoft/Samsung/Telstra stores amongst many others) but never bettered.”
So, how can others compete? For Miranda, it’s all about authenticity and consistency of the brand experience.
“A key lesson from Apple’s experience with the Genius Bar is the consistency of service, extensive training, and an open ‘ask questions’ approach. However, getting through the online triage process to secure an appointment is still incredibly frustrating for many,” she said.
“It will be interesting to see how the Google offering will differ, and what they will hang their hat on in terms of service and experience.”
Google needs to reinvent the tech store and be as bold as Amazon in its approach to retail formats, according to Stacey. By capitalising on its position as a leading search engine, he believes Google could create an unmatched customer experience.
“Google has a brand name which is also an action – why not factor this into an ever-changing, physical ‘search engine’ approach to the store? Allow customers to interact outside as well as inside the store, leading on the emerging role of retail as broadcast spaces?
“In this way, they could take a lead role in providing ever-changing experiences that might include live-streaming to connect people to one-to-one clienteling services, engaging sales and driving influence. Or livestreaming co-creation studio spaces that tap into the self-expression needs of Gen Z? Or imagining the space as a cultural hub broadcasting one to many?”
Either way, customer expectations will be very high.
“They’ll be seeking a frictionless experience from the DTC store,” Miranda said. “It will be interesting to see how Google incorporates data within the process to make it easy for customers to make a decision, and, ultimately, choose Google again in future.”