Google’s first pop-up, Made By Google, closed its doors today at the corner of Spring and Mercer St. in SoHo New York. The pop-up, Google’s second foray into a retail-like setting after its original Google Glasses shop, was greeted by adoring tech fans and curious tourists who were willing to stand in long lines to preview Google’s new phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL, Google Home gadgets, and Daydream VR headsets. Tote bags containing Google swag, and even tiny Google Pixel ugly holiday sweaters, were handed out to patient visitors.
The weird thing? Visitors couldn’t buy anything. Everything within the store was an experience. The tech company seemed to be taking a leaf out of the Bonobos Guideshop book—customers could demo the new gadgets and decide if the Pixel was desirable enough to switch to from Android or iOS. Google Home—which had a similar feel to Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home gadgets—might eventually be smarter and better than Alexa given Google’s massive information software. As the Pixel rolls out, the Google Daydream is poised to be one of most affordable, easy-to-use headsets that works with a smartphone.
Sure, the pop-up is a stunt, but it’s one in which Google’s parent company Alphabet can start to gauge consumer interest and build hype before possibly launching a permanent store, a la Apple (which has a store just down the street) and right before the holidays. For other brands, tech and otherwise, this wait-and-see tactic will become more common as rent prices in desirable locations continue to rise. It’s also a space to test out a limited number of products and keep the experience directed toward their few consumer-level hardware products.
The second big takeaway: the drive to create an interesting experience instead of just a shoppable experience. The only thing Google is selling is advertising, and it’s advertising itself as a future hardware manufacturer with great potential to connect mobile with smart home appliances with virtual reality—in essence, a computer could be anywhere. As well, Made By Google also had a fiber optic art installation—perfect for a selfie or a photo op, and also to remind visitors of what else the company can do.
Finally, customers who bought a Pixel while the store was open could come in and take classes on how to use their new phone in groups of five or less. It’s a power play to sway consumers from iOS by offering hands-on sessions where consumers can ask questions and learn more about Android. This model could be applied to any of Google’s new products, like Google Wifi or Google Home—and could build a bigger following as a wider range of consumers become interested and have an easy way to learn more.
For marketers and retail executives of digitally native brands rethinking the traditional brick-and-mortar model, perhaps the smaller pop-up experience for new products or services would be a smart test that can gather audiences, provide instant feedback, and also serve as a way to create brand evangelists without spending too much on labor, rent, or advertising.