Google is preparing to open brick-and-mortar stores in India to shore up sales of its Pixel smartphones in one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for the devices where the tech giant is lagging behind the competition, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
“They have plans to open stores here,” said one of them, adding the company would open “experience centers” in India. “They are considering it,” said another person, who said the company might roll out stores in the latter part of 2018. The third person said Google had hired a senior Apple executive as part of its plan. “We don’t comment on any rumors or speculation,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed response to ET.
The company is said to have been encouraged by the response to more than a dozen pop-up stores in recent weeks that it opened in malls across India, including High Street Phoenix in Mumbai, and Select Citywalk, Promenade, Mall of India in Delhi-NCR to showcase Pixel 2 phones and educate consumers on its features.
At least two prominent malls in India said they have received requests for space to set up Google stores. “They got a flavor of how physical stores are also important because you can’t explain many of the features online,” said a top executive at a mall where the company had a pop-up store for more than a month. He said the company had created a ‘dark room’ to show that the Pixel 2 can take good pictures at night or low light. “They got good traction. So, maybe this could (have encouraged Google) for the decision (to open outlets).”
Google will use the stores to sell other products as well, said one of the persons cited above. Its hardware includes Google Home smart speakers, Chromecast streaming devices, Pixel laptops and Daydream View virtual reality headsets.
This is Google’s latest strategy to boost smartphone sales in India, where it’s not just trailing Apple and Samsung, but also Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, Vivo, and Oppo. This will be Google’s second stab at physical outlets in the country. In 2013, Google had in partnership with BK Modi-promoted Spice Group rolled out AndroidLand outlets to sell Android smartphones from brands such as Samsung, Sony, HTC, Lenovo, Xolo, Micromax, and Karbonn, alongside Spice, which also sells its own branded smartphones.
Spice had said it planned to open 50 AndroidLand outlets in 18 months but the venture folded up with the two stores in Select Citywalk in Delhi and The Great India Place Mall in Noida shuttered due to poor sales.
“We had done two stores as part of the pilot and then we could not proceed with the project as they did not meet with our desired objectives,” said Dilip Modi, chief executive of Spice Connect.
However, it is unclear whether Google will apply for a single-brand retailing license in India or take the franchise route like Apple and Samsung. Samsung branded stores are owned and operated by franchisees in India, Xiaomi’s Mi Home physical outlets are owned by franchisees.
Apple is seeking a single-brand license to open own stores in India and has sought concessions including duty exemption on manufacturing and servicing, components, capital equipment and consumables for 15 years.