Winter Wonderlabs: Google’s pop-up stores open for the holidays

Wooing holiday shoppers, Google has opened its first-ever “Winter Wonderlab” stores in six U.S. cities – including one in Roseville’s Westfield Galleria.

The temporary stores – all of which are expected to close by Dec. 24 – are in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

Borrowing a page from Apple’s consumer-friendly tech stores, Google invites shoppers to touch, sample, play or just “chill” with its products, including its Nexus 7 tablets, Chromebook laptops and other gadgets. But unlike Apple and other retailers, the Winter Wonderlabs are really more showrooms, where you can test-drive the products. Consumers can’t walk out the door with a physical purchase, but can place online orders.

“It’s a smart move,” said Mary T. Monahan, an executive vice president and research director for Javelin Strategy & Research in Pleasanton. “Apple has done so well with its stores, and Google sees the same opportunity. People want to touch, play and see things in their hands, especially high-end (electronics). That really affects their buying decisions.”

As with many Google ventures, the company is tight-lipped about its first-ever holiday stores. A Westfield Galleria spokesperson deferred to Google for any comment, but did confirm that the Winter Wonderlab officially opened Monday and is closing Dec. 24. It’s located on the mall’s first floor near Sears.

“It is a fun and interactive way for the public to experience all of Google’s gadgets ... all in one place and just in time for the holidays,” said Google communications manager Gina Scigliano in an email. The company declined to comment further on the stores or why Sacramento was chosen as one of the six sites.

Perhaps the biggest draw inside each Winter Lab is an igloo-like enclosure, akin to a life-size snow globe, where customers can walk in and film themselves playing in virtual snow. Google says the slow-motion videos are for consumers to keep and share.

The Winter Wonderlab outlets are another of Google’s surprising and close-mouthed moves. Last month, word leaked out that Google had been secretly building a large, floating structure inside a covered bay on Treasure Island in San Francisco. Amid speculation about the boxy-looking barge – was it a retail showroom, a floating data center, a party boat? – the company announced recently that it would be “an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.” A similar floating structure was reportedly built by Google in Portland, Maine.

As for the Winter Wonderlab, it differs in one significant way from so many major retailers pushing Thanksgiving Day openings. Google said all six of its Winter Wonderlab stores will be closed on Nov. 28, but they will be open on Black Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.