October 7, 2011, 2:08 PM

Google goes retro with its first step into the physical retail world

The search engine giant opens a Chrome Zone store in London to sell computers.

Thad Rueter

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

The Chrome Zone store in London.

Google Inc., the wizard of search that can grant fame or force oblivion upon web merchants, has entered the physical world of retailing with the launch of a store where consumers can eye, touch, inspect and buy Chromebook computers featuring Google software, and do so with the assistance of flesh-and-blood clerks.

Google placed its “shop-within-a-shop” inside London’s flagship Currys and PC World joint superstore on London’s Tottenham Court Road. The so-called Chrome Zone will give shoppers a chance for hands-on test drives of the Samsung Chromebook Series 5  notebook computers, which run on Google’s Chrome operating system.

A snapshot of the store features a look that one might expect from the physical expression of Google’s digital ideal: Sleek, simple and splashed with primary colors, and with what the search engine giant calls an open-air feel. “We’ve put a great deal of thought into the design of this Chrome Zone,” says Arvind Desikan, head of consumer marketing for Google in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Google gave no information about its plans for future retail stores, nor why London won the honor of hosting the first Google store. Google has a dedicated Chromebook site at www.google/chromebook; that site has a Buy Now button, but consumers who follow that link are directed to Amazon.com, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, BestBuy.com, No 11, or TigerDirect.com, No. 23, to browse further and buy. Google did not say whether it had plans to sell the computers directly from its own sites.

Last year, Google opened an e-commerce store for its Nexus One smartphone, which uses Google’s Android operating system. The online store closed after six months of operation. “While the global adoption of the Android platform has exceeded our expectations, the web store has not,” wrote Andy Rubin, Google engineering vice president, in a blog post at the time. “It’s remained a niche channel for early adopters, but it’s clear that many customers like a hands-on experience before buying a phone, and they also want a wide range of service plans to choose from.”

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