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Google Launches Gadget Showrooms

Pop-up outlets called Winter Wonderlabs will open soon in six cities around the US.

To warn of the coming of British troops in 1775, Paul Revere, in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, arranged to have the number of visible lanterns communicate the manner of the soldiers' approach: one if by land, two if by sea.

To tell of Google's entry into the retail business, a third lantern would be required: The search advertising giant is coming by land and by sea. As Google tries to finalize a berth in San Francisco, Calif., for its floating barge technology exhibit, the company is also preparing to open pop-up product showrooms called Winter Wonderlabs in Annapolis, Md.; Aurora, Ill.; Canoga Park, Calif.; New York, N.Y.; Paramus, N.J.; and Roseville, Calif.

These winter-themed stores will display and take orders for Google products, such as Nexus 7 tablets, Chromebooks from the company's hardware partners, and Chromecast streaming media devices. They won't be fulfilling orders on the spot, however.

[ Check out Google's floating tech exhibit: Google Barge: 10 Informative Images. ]

Google's gadget outlets will also offer visitors the opportunity to be filmed while cavorting in a geodesic dome during a simulated snowstorm. "Bring friends or family members (we'll provide the fake snow) and step into the giant Snow Globe to create amazing slow motion videos that are yours to keep and share," Google explains on the Winter Wonderlab website.

Google plans to provide video participants with a "snow pass ID" that can be used to log into the Winter Wonderlab site for viewing the video. Google didn't immediately respond to a query about whether it might use customer videos for advertising the Google retail experience.

Kenneth Wisnefski, president and founder of Webimax, a search consultancy, sees Google's retail experiment as a way to develop new revenue channels and to increase the company's brand influence.

"Over time, we'll start to see Google have Google Stores that are similar to what Apple has done," he said in a phone interview. "Not everywhere, like Verizon, but in select places."

Chances are it will take Google years and a larger product line to match Apple's success as a retailer. In October, Apple said it had 416 retail stores, 162 of which are outside the US. The company earned $4.5 billion in revenue from its retail operations during the third quarter of 2013, its fiscal fourth quarter. Microsoft, pursuing a similar strategy, has close to 50 stores.

But clearly, Google has to undertake this, because its e-commerce efforts have been underwhelming, at least with regard to physical goods. The company tried selling its Nexus One exclusively online in early 2010 and then gave up in May of that year. Google's Andy Rubin, in charge of Android at the time, conceded that hardware products sell better when they can be handled. "[I]t'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 chose from," Rubin said.

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