Even Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, struck out occasionally, and so not even the initiator of Internet innovation, Google, gets it right every time. While its Nexus One mobile phone is selling pretty well, its web store didn't meet expectations. As a result, Google has announced that it will be closing its online store after just four months. The phone will live on at retail shops instead.
Google had hoped to revolutionize the mobile phone market through its web store. Traditionally, if you want a mobile phone, you need to go to Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, T-mobile, or another carrier's shop to find one. Google sought to allow consumers to be network agnostic, and choose phones based on their capabilities, instead of carriers. That sounds great in theory, so why didn't it work?
You Can't Feel the Internet
The first problem was the setting. The Internet is great for a lot of things. But it's not-so-great for buying products that people want to feel out before purchasing. For example, few people are comfortable buying a car online -- you need to feel how it handles, stroke the interior, and see how the road looks when staring out the windshield. A mobile phone is a similarly important purchase these days. As Google's blog post notes, people want that "hands-on experience."
A universal phone store can't work if carriers aren't on board with what you're selling -- and they weren't. The Nexus One's options became reduced to just T-mobile. Initially, it was thought that Sprint and Verizon would carry the device, but ultimately they balked. If a mobile phone website can only offer one network, then it's not network agnostic, its network monotheistic. That's not going to impress consumers. Google also recognized this problem in its statement.
Not Enough Products
Another thing that could have helped the site do better? It would have been more appealing if it featured lots of phone options with a variety of carriers. By focusing on just the Nexus One, the website made it hard for consumers to comparison shop. For example, Best Buy's website goes in a better direction -- and it probably sells a fair number of phones. There, you can scroll through phones and compare features. If you find one you like, then you can decide if you can stomach a network it's on. In a sense, Bestbuy.com is already living Google's dream.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.