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What it’s like to tour one of Google’s hidden, strange Glass stores

Google Glass Store sign
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

 I was interested in Glass, but Google didn’t seem interested in me.

One day in the not too far future, you’ll be able to walk into a store and buy Google Glass. It probably won’t be a Best Buy, but a dedicated Google-run showroom. Following Glass’ debut in the UK, Google opened up just such a store in central London. We paid it a visit to see exactly what it will be like for someone to buy one of the most controversial pieces of tech in the past few years.

This is the fourth store we know of, for the record. It’s siblings are in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City.

Google Glass Store ExteriorMuch like ordering a Glass until recently, getting inside the store is something of a mission, which begins even before you step foot outside your front door. Google really wants you to make an appointment, something which is mercifully easy to do online, but almost impossible any other way. The Glass store isn’t located on a busy high street either; you have to search to find it.

Approaching it along a quiet street takes you past some of London’s coolest architecture, a university, a funky restaurant, and the River Thames. There’s no fanfare once you reach it, though. Unlike Apple’s stores, which make their presence known, there’s no massive Glass display stand in the window, and definitely no glass staircase. Just to make sure the shop isn’t filled with riff-raff, the homeless, or too many curious tech journalists, there’s even a doorman. A burly security guard presses a button to open the door, and you’re directed to a reception desk.

I was prepared for the sales onslaught

As I entered the store, I was ready to resist the inevitably skilled sales people, keen to make this month’s commission quota. I was a fish-in-a-barrel, and they were armed with AK47s. The guard was the only one, aside from me, not wearing Glass, making us look like outsiders. Walking across the polished wooden floor was my Glass consultant. She started out by asking me if I was there to buy, or simply curious.

We hadn’t talked about tech at all. It was like buying a pair of jeans.

This took me by surprise. Hold on, you’re happy to spend precious time on someone who isn’t prepared to buy? This wasn’t what I expected at all. Shocked, I told her I may be interested, and that I had used Glass before, but never with the new spectacle frames. I wear glasses most of the time, so if they made me look like a moron, I wouldn’t be interested. After all, Glass itself was going to do a good job of that on its own.

Related: Watch The Daily Show make fun of Google Glass

At this point, my consultation turned into a conversation about fashion, and my preferred choice of colors. We hadn’t talked about tech at all. It was like buying a pair of jeans. However, the store itself isn’t like a branch of American Apparel, or even a high class glasses store. It’s more like a classroom. The ceiling is all exposed heating ducts and low hanging lights, and the majority of the floor space is taken up with large desks, either with portable mirrors on them, or pushed up against huge wall mounted ones. Glass is confined to one small display area, where examples of all the colors and designs can be found, and another, more artistic, section showing the various sunglass attachments. If you didn’t know, you’d be hard pressed to know what was on sale at all.

Still no tech talk

With my choice of color and frame type chosen, we sat down and tried them on. I was already 15 minutes into my appointment, and Glass still hadn’t been turned on. I then spent another 10 minutes staring at myself in the mirror, unsure whether I preferred the Thin or the Bold frame types. Buying Glass, I was discovering, wasn’t some techy, geeky process. It was something for the vain.

Google Glass Store Interior and Andy

Finally, we got into demoing Glass. We ran through how to use the touch panel, the voice commands, and I gave the GPS and messaging a try. I had wondered why foreign language magazines were dotted around the desks, and it turns out they were to show-off the very cool Translate app. I asked if Glass was really only suitable for keen developers right now, and not for posers and/or geeks, but was assured it would soon become an integral part of my life, programming skills or not.

Related: See more Google Glass designer frames up close

Almost everyone around me was wearing Glass, and I was happily messing around with the camera on my demo pair, so it quickly began to feel very normal. So normal, and so much fun, that I was tempted to hand over my money right then. Except the heavy sales tactics never came. I wasn’t even asked if I was interested in buying it, and repeatedly told there was no pressure at all. Even if Alec Baldwin himself was there yelling to the sales team to Always Be Closing, his advice would have fallen on deaf ears. These people didn’t seem to know they were working at a store at all.

No sale

When I was finished — I had been left on my own to play with Glass — I asked a couple of the staff about business. Naturally, the responses were guarded, but I was told the store saw some foot traffic, and if they were free from appointments, they would happily give a demonstration. They had been very busy, and both the store and the UK release of Glass had been a considerable success. As I asked questions, the corporate machine suddenly whirred into life. I was told that I couldn’t take pictures inside — only of the display stands — and warned that any in-depth questions would go unanswered.

I left feeling like I’d seen the future, but that Google wasn’t sure it wanted me as a customer.

My time was up, so I made a vague appointment to come back the week after to finalize the sale, but nothing was written down, making it all felt very noncommittal. Almost like they didn’t want to take my money.

I thanked everyone for their time, and left feeling like I’d seen the future, but that Google wasn’t sure it wanted me as a customer. Perhaps if I’d looked a bit more “Google” (a well-manicured beard, some shorts, a hoody, and a backpack perhaps) my second appointment would have been taken seriously, or maybe I’d picked the least cool frame and color combination, singling me out as someone unsuitable to wear Glass in public.

Google Glass is controversial for several reasons, one of which is the perceived threat of our privacy being invaded by its face-mounted camera. Shopping in-store for Glass couldn’t have been less threatening if the staff were dressed up like characters from Winnie the Pooh. The push I needed to hand over my £1000 never came, which is typical of Google’s hippy-ish approach to life.

If this no-pressure approach didn’t generate a sale from me, someone open to the tech and ready to buy, it’s unlikely to work on the general public. The trouble is, that’s exactly who will need the most convincing when Glass goes on sale. Google Glass may have more hills to climb than we think.

Andy's fascination with mobile tech began in the 90s, at a time when SMS messages were considered cutting edge, but it would be a decade before he would put finger-to-keyboard as a technology writer. In the interim he wrote about travel, formulated strong opinions about films and owned a series of audacious cars.

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