The decision to open stores, I’m told, came when drawing up plans to take the Google Glass to the public. The leadership thought consumers would need to try Google Glass first hand to make a purchase. Without being able to use them first hand, few non-techies would be interested in buying Google’s glasses (which will retail from between $500 to $1,000). From there, the decision to sell other Google-branded products made sense.
Along with Glass, Google will have an opportunity to demonstrate other upcoming and Google X projects like driverless cars and mini-drone delivery systems at its stores.
When I attended the political conventions last summer, Google set up hangout spaces for media to work in. They were large, colorful areas with lots of tables, charging stations, free wifi, and booths displaying Google products, along with coffee stands, games, and tech-minded employees to help out if you had any questions. I imagine Google is thinking of something like that, only with less free stuff and more products for sale.
Bear in mind, please, that there have been rumors of Amazon.com retail stores for years now, so this is not necessarily going to happen: Every tech brand presumably tosses around the idea of building brand-only retail stores, the way Apple has. But I think it's safe to say that Sony Style and Microsoft stores haven't taken off the way Apple's stores have, in part because Apple Stores feel like an extension of the brand, and Microsoft's stores just feel like ripoffs of Apple Stores. If Google is going to do this, they have to do something that isn't just a bunch of spare tables spread across a huge, well-lit space with a "bar" of "geniuses" in back.