It’s not often that Google makes its presence felt in a retail setting, particularly in a mall at the start of the holiday shopping frenzy. But this year Google busted out of the Playstore and into six different cities with their Winter Wonderlab experience. The locations you can catch this event are New York City (Bryant Park), Chicago area (Aurora Fox Valley Mall), Washington DC area (Annapolis Mall), Los Angeles area (Canoga Park Topanga Mall), New Jersey (Garden State Plaza) and Sacramento area (Roseville Westfield Galleria).
I’m very close to the Chicago location, so I hit it up early Saturday morning. Aurora Fox Valley Mall is about 45 minutes west of the city of Chicago and is one of the more popular malls in the area. I got there right as stores were starting to open, so the Wonderlab was nice and empty. I was quickly stopped by mall security who promptly asked me to put away my camera and stop taking pictures. Of course I challenged this request and asked to speak to their supervisor. After a 10 minute delay the shift commander decided that it was up to Google if they were OK with me taking pictures. Both myself and the security guard talked to Ben, the supervisor at the Google Wonderlab, and he was more than accommodating and very polite. It took no more than 2 seconds for him to welcome me and tell me I could take as many pictures as I wanted to. Security slinked away.
The Wonderlab is set up smack dab in the middle of the mall and is pretty obvious, you can’t miss the GIANT snowglobe front and center. More on that later. Google has sections setup for gaming, browsing, photos and more. There are lots of brand new Nexus 7s and HP Chromebooks neatly lined up. The Chromebook Pixel has its own reserved place near the snowglobe, and it’s evident that this machine is something special. The staff was extremely helpful and super nice. Amy, Ben, Alex and Kevin were just a few of the people I dealt with, and it was clear that customer service was top priority.
Curiously, the Nexus 5 was missing as was the Chromecast and Google/Android TV; although, one employee did tell me that they were expecting the Nexus 5 soon. The Winter Wonderlab is Google’s marketing and advertising push for the holidays, another way to push the company’s hardware and software ventures. Most people think of Google as a search engine. Heck, a lot of people have no clue that Android is a Google product. The Wonderlab is an evangelism campaign to get Google product in front of eyes that otherwise wouldn’t see them. And honestly, I think it will be a success. In the short time I was there people started coming in out of curiosity (the giant snow globe being the attractor). Even some of the employees told me in the short time they have been open it has been pretty busy.
Once inside the globe there is a snow machine gently blowing snow into the air and a few boxes of props which the user can use to make their movie. The camera operator, in this case Alex, makes his adjustments and waits for you to get your act together. Once you know what you’re going to do he counts to three and you do your thing for a whole three seconds. And then you’re done. You exit the globe and wait for your video to be generated (check out my video below). Once your video is done the gatekeeper will let you know and you can then go to any Nexus device and wave your NFC enabled card under it and choose music for your video and finalize. Really a great marketing piece and Google is doing it right in this case. It’s fun, it’s controlled and easy for users to access and have fun with.
From what I can tell here, Google is doing what it has set out to do with Winter Wonderlab. It’s getting devices in front of eyes that otherwise wouldn’t see them and it’s giving people the chance to ask questions about Google devices that otherwise would never be answered (or asked for that matter). And it’s showing the public that Google is more than a search engine. One of the more important pieces of this is the way Google is doing this. The Wonderlab is simple design, clean no clutter and distraction free. The products are front and center with knowledgeable and courteous staff answering questions. To be honest with you, I really hope this is not a one time holiday deal. This is what Google should be doing to push product and raise its visibility beyond search. And maybe this is just a test run for Google, maybe if this is successful enough you’ll see these stores on a larger scale in more cities on a permanent basis. I highly recommend to take a trip to the Wonderlab if you are any where in driving distance, if you go to the Chicago one, tell them Techaeris sent you!