Google storefronts could be coming to a mall near you, if recent reports from the Wall Street Journal and the blog 9to5 Google are true. Microsoft, too, has set up several dozen outlets in the last year. Apple, which pioneered the strategy of making it hip to hawk ones own wares, now has some 400 locations. It wouldn’t be surprising if we saw Amazon open real brick-and-mortar hardware stores, too.
This trifecta is no great thing for consumers. It is one more way the tech giants hope to bring customers into their respective “ecosystems”—competing more based on their brand, not the specs of the device, and making it not so easy for people to switch once they’ve decided their loyalties.
Really, tech retail is becoming not much different than fashion. Back in the day, people went to department stores and compared boutiques showing the latest styles. Now people go to the J Crew or Urban Outfitters. In the future, we may mourn the disappearance of Best Buy, and that knowledgable salesman who didn’t much care which particular brand we bought and so could offer his real advice. (As may be evident, I’m not a big online shopper.)
It’s not totally clear what the Google stores will sell, but offerings would likely include its Chromebooks, Google Nexus phones, and tablets, and one day even Google Glass, its augmented reality goggles. Google also owns Motorola, but carrying that company’s devices in its stores would be more touchy, since Motorola competes with other manufacturers that use the Android operating system.