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Branded Environments: Are Boutique Stores The Future Of Tech Retail?


There’s been a lot of buzz this past week about Google and whether they will be opening their own retail stores sometime later this year.  In our view a Google store makes a lot of sense.

Google’s Nexus tablets and low-cost Chromebooks are reasons enough for retail stores.  Add in the Android Marketplace, Google Play, Google+, Google Now, plus an ever-tightening cross-integration of pr

oducts and services, and the broader Google brand narrative starts to come into focus.

A retail store is a perfect place for Google to connect the dots between it’s vast array of products and services, and to give consumers a hands-on opportunity to experience the Google brand and better understand that the Google digital lifestyle is more than search.

This is precisely what Apple did. Steve Jobs opened the first Apple store when other major consumer electronics retailers were closing theirs down (remember Gateway?).  At a very basic level, he reasoned that if someone visits an Apple store to purchase an iPhone, the odds are that they will discover and want to buy another Apple product.  But it went way beyond that.  Jobs believed that a proprietary store was a great way to build awareness and invite people into the Apple digital lifestyle.  The Apple Store is the one place where everything about Apple and the benefits of Apple hardware, software and services comes together in one cohesive branded experience. 

Microsoft has been working hard to create a store experience that’s uniquely their own, albeit with a few stumbles along the way. But my last visit to their store in Corte Madera, California suggests they’re making progress.  While the outside of the store looks a lot like Apple, the experience inside feels brighter, more colorful and almost naively optimistic.  The sales people I encountered were almost cult-like in their belief that the new Surface tablet, Windows 8, Bing etc. is going to change the world.  Not sure I’m totally there yet, but I couldn’t help but be drawn in by their enthusiasm.

There are many challenges ahead for a Google retail store, not the least of which will be to achieve the kind of profits the Apple Store generates.  Key will be Google’s ability to create a retail store experience that’s true to the Google brand, and not simply a more colorfulversion of the Apple Store, or a larger version of the Chrome Zone experience that Google already has out there.  Google needs to create a store that’s defined not just by the right product assortment, fixtures and décor, but by a broader narrative that captures the essence of the Google digital lifestyle and how that benefits consumers in their daily lives.  The experience needs to be inspired by customer insights, then translated into personalized interactions that not only satisfy customers needs, but surprises and delights them in ways that make them want to share the experience with friends so the Google store experience “goes viral” in the same way Apple’s stores have.

What we’re seeing with the impending Google store is part of a broader trend toward ‘integrated retail’.  It used to be that retail was divided between two worlds – bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce.  Consumers today are both online and offline, and sometimes both – online while shopping offline.  Online they are sharing, friend validating, researching, learning and developing a point of view. Offline there is touching, brand comparing and brand associating. 

As Google's product line expands to include both hardware and cloud based services, an integrated retail channel strategy including bricks-and-mortar stores makes sense.  Let us know if you agree.

About Hood Branded Environments

Hood envisions, designs and produces immersive branded environments that help our clients deepen engagement with their customers.

We've been in business for 20+ years. We started out making trade show exhibits and museum fixtures, and we’ve grown into retail and multi-channel experiential projects, including pop-up stores.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest, most exciting brands on the planet like Sony, Levi’s, Coors, Francis Ford Coppola and David Copperfield.

For more information, visit our website at

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