The announcement that Google will expand the retail footprint of its hardware partners’ Chromebook netbooks is one that threatens to come back to bite the search giant — or, more likely, the hardware makers.

A couple of months ago, I was on a business trip in Milpitas, Calif. A colleague, eager to get the newest Chromebook without waiting for it to go on sale in Canada, had located online the Best Buy store nearest to our hotel and pre-ordered one for pickup, a testament to his likeable geekiness. With a little downtime, we strolled over to the store. He went to the pickup desk for his order. One staffer handed it over; a second, with a look of horror on his face, literally snatched the box out of his hands.

“This isn’t what you think it is,” the staffer said. He explained that it wasn’t a real computer in that it only really worked when connected to the Internet. Apparently, he’d had enough training to recognize that a techno novice might be seduced by the low price, but expect regular computer performance, resident applications, etc. He wouldn’t hand over the netbook without interrogating my colleague until he was satisfied he really wanted the Chromebook.

chromebook pixel
The Chromebook Pixel

I’ve heard similar stories from others. And while it’s irksome at the time, it’s also understandable and even a little noble. Don’t sell the customer what he or she doesn’t want. It’s annoying, you’re going to have to deal with complaints and returns, and it can damage the reputation of the store and the product.

The store can ameliorate that reputation damage with good return service. The reputation of the hardware brand, though, is always going to be tainted in that customer’s eyes.

So while there’s merit in extending sales to, say, Staples — where there’s likely to be some office-oriented experience and training — there’s not so much in extending them to a department store like Wal-Mart. The likelihood of appropriate staff training is small, and given the wide range of products department stores sell, a good return experience isn’t likely, either. And the black mark stays with the hardware brand.

Read more about Google’s retail expansion plans here.

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  • gisabun

    Actually Chromebook would be a good place to sell/rip-off clients to dump those bricks. They are cheap. That’s it.
    Somre may give the rebittal that they do have some lo9cal applications, it ain’t enough. As mentioned in the article, WalMart has no or little training of what they sell [with the rare time you get someone who does] as most of the works there are low paid and not even full time.
    Staples is a better choice -or really any legitimate store that sells technology.
    But even then, this stuff has been tried and failed before. In the days before the iPad and tablets [circa 2008-9], netbooks did quite well. At one point there was a poll done [don’t remember by whom] and the results said that about 80% of all netbooks returned were returned because Linux was on it. The Linux version was maybe $20 cheaper [licensing difference] and many who bought it bought the Linux thing that it was cheaper. What’s the difference? Well they brought it home and found out thatit wasn’t Windows.
    So what is Chromebook? A Linux variant sitting on a netbook-style system. “Modern” but still not that fast.

  • james braselton

    hi there chrom books at walmart is good idear

  • s fr

    Computers are being dumbed down daily so even a 2 year can use it. It only makes sense to sell directly to the people who fit the dumbed down category. You don’t need a tech expert to sell you a smartphone, tablet or chromebook. They are made to do only the simplest of tasks with little to no experience needed. Same goes for the salesperson. walmart is perfect for someone with no computer knowledge looking for something that they will replace in a couple years with the latest most dumbest downed smartwatch/ tablet/ computer available.