Google is opening its first physical store: This is why

Google is opening a physical store, its first brick-and-mortar retail experience, and a hub to help raise the profile of Pixel phones, its Nest smart home range, and Chromebooks. The new store will be in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, and will also include support and troubleshooting assistance much in the same way that Apple's Genius Bar operates in its retail locations.

It's an unexpected expansion in strategy for Google, which has long pushed online as the best way to deliver both sales and support. In fact, the new physical Google store will work in tandem with, rather than replacing, the online Google store.

Shoppers will be able to purchase products online, for example, and then pick them up in-store. Alternatively, if they want to experience the devices in-person first, they'll be able to check out the store demos. That'll include Fitbit health tracking wearables, now that the deal for Google to acquire the company has closed.

"Our expectations of how we shop have changed significantly, and forever, due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Jason Rosenthal, VP of Direct Channels & Membership at Google, said today. "Many customers still want to experience hardware before they buy it — and learn what it feels like, sounds like and looks like in their hand or on a desk. But in-store shopping might look a bit different than what customers are used to, and that's okay."

As you'd expect, there'll be a strong focus on hygiene. Masks will be required, despite the CDC's easing of the guidelines about indoor mask-wearing for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Hand sanitizing and social distancing will also be required.

Google plans to clean all the spaces, including the demo devices, "multiple times a day," according to Rosenthal. It'll also be limiting how many people are allowed inside at any one time, and be adding different pickup options for those reluctant to spend too much time inside.

It comes as some retailers are considering scaling back their physical presence, given the dramatic shift to online sales during the pandemic. That hasn't meant a complete move away from actual stores, mind, though it has left room for some experimentation. Amazon, for example, has been pushing its register-free Amazon Go technology, which uses shopper-tracking cameras and sensors to monitor what each person is picking up, and then automatically charging that to their Amazon account as they leave.

As for why Google picked this specific neighborhood, that's because of its proximity to an existing Google campus. Google Store Chelsea will be on 15th and 9th, and is expected to open over the summer.