Google opens Winter Wonderlab holiday retail store in Washington and five other markets

As the holiday shopping season approaches, none of the tech giants want to be left out in the cold.

Apple, which has a dozen local stores, reportedly considered keeping locations in some markets open on Thanksgiving this year. Microsoft, along with the Entertainment Software Association, held a sneak peek party for the new Xbox One gaming system last week at the W Hotel.

Now Google is getting into the retail game with pop-up holiday stores called Winter Wonderlabs. Washington is one of six markets where it is opening this season, along with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Sacramento.

The local store, in Westfield Annapolis mall, opened this weekend according to the company and the mall owner. It’s expected to operate through Christmas Eve.

Judging from a promotional video Google posted on its new Winter Wonderlab Web site, Google seems to be borrowing a bit design-wise from Apple and, well, the Gap, given the walk-in snow globes it is planning, where customers can create slow-motion videos of themselves amongst fake falling snow. Most of the locations opened on Friday Nov. 16, the company said in a statement.

Winter Wonderlabs are a “fun and interactive way for the public to experience all of Google’s gadgets — from the new Nexus 7 to the latest Chromebooks and Chromecast — all in one place and just in time for the Holidays,” the company said in a statement.

“Sometimes what the hectic holidays need is some slow-mo,” the company wrote on its site. “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.”

Why did Google choose Annapolis for its only Washington-area store, rather than Penn Quarter, Georgetown, Bethesda or Tysons?

Rather than going for trendy urban neighborhoods, it looks like the company inked an agreement with Westfield, the shopping mall giant, as a way of targeting suburban and exurban shoppers. Although the New York City location is in Manhattan at Bryant Park, the others are at Westfield malls. The Chicago store is at a mall in Aurora (40 miles from the center of Chicago), the L.A. store is in Canoga Park (28 miles away) and even the Sacramento store is 20 miles from town.

For the malls, it’s a chance to stay relevant, said Jeff Pollak, a managing principal at Bethesda-based Streetsense. The Annapolis Wonderlab is in an atrium on the mall’s the first floor, near Crate & Barrel and Adidas.

“I think the large mall owners are going to get more and more creative to keep space in the malls activated, whether it’s a Google store, an Etsy Shop or Web stores looking to build brand awareness during the malls higher traffic periods,” he said in an e-mail.

Google says it will be displaying its tablets, laptops and media players at the stores, all of them available for trying out. If you can make it to Annapolis.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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