The last time Google tried to dabble in the retail game - via an online store for selling a carrier-free Android phone - the effort was a miserable failure. Its biggest problem? It's really tough to sell an actual product when 1) there is no physical location where consumers can go to touch the product, pick it up or give it a test run, and 2) there are no salespeople - either online or in-person - to ask questions about the product.
Now, Google is getting back in the retail game but coming at it this time from a completely different approach, one that could actually catch on if it stays true to its focus and realistic about its success.
The first "Chrome Zone" - more of a kiosk that an actual store - opened in an electronics superstore in London a couple of weeks ago. No, it didn't open with the sort of fanfare we've come to expect with Apple stores, but it is colorfully bright and welcoming in Google's signature "check out our funky furniture" kind of way.
On-site specialists will certainly be happy to sell you a Chromebook but the feeling here is that Google is trying to sell more than notebooks. That's a good thing. Google should be trying to sell people on the benefits of the overall Google experience - Google Docs, Google Plus, GMail, Blogger and so on. A blog post even suggests that people drop by to "spend time a Chromebook, discover cool web apps and chat with our Chrome specialists." For years, Google's executives - when asked how they'll monetize free Web-based products - have been saying that Google benefits whenever someone uses the Internet. Using a Chromebook or Google's online services certainly falls into that category.
As more companies have discovered the benefits of the cloud and have started thinking beyond traditional home PCs loaded down with traditional software, so have consumers.
Just yesterday, I talked my dad - now retired and thinking about a new iPod - through the Google Music cloud concept and explained to him how it could turn his smartphone into an mp3 player. He was intrigued and decided to put the iPod purchase on hold and give the Google Music Cloud a test run (as well as the Amazon Music Cloud.) Likewise, I started sharing heavy-user Gmail tips with my wife a few months ago when her employer announced that a move to Google Apps was headed their way.
Here's one for the UK, which I've heard (tag: Zack Whittaker) is something that happens far too often with new tech products and services. For now, it looks like the Chrome Zone is limited to the UK. While a post in the London Evening Standard says that the Chrome Zone will only be around through the holiday season, Google's official blog post says that more stores are coming to the UK in the coming months. A second opened in Essex this week. No word about stores/kiosks/zones planned for the U.S.