Google’s Chromebook Web-enabled laptop machines will now be sold in Walmart and Staples stores, which will mean that the devices will now be available to consumers in more than 6,600 retail stores around the world.
The announcement, which adds Walmart and Staples stores to the existing Chromebook retail outlets through Best Buy and Amazon.com, was unveiled in a June 17 post on the Google Official Blog by David Shapiro, Google’s director of Chromebook marketing.
“Chromebooks—a fast, simple, secure laptop that won’t break the bank—will now be carried in over 3 times more stores than before,” wrote Shapiro in his post. “Starting today, Walmart will be making the newest Acer Chromebook, which has a 16GB Solid State Drive (SSD), available in approximately 2,800 stores across the U.S., for just $199.”
The machines will be arriving in the chain’s stores throughout the summer, he wrote. “And beginning this weekend, Staples will bring a mix of Chromebooks from Acer, HP and Samsung to every store in the U.S.—more than 1,500 in total.”
Consumers will also be able to purchase the machines via Staples online, while business users will be able to buy them through the Staples Advantage B2B program, wrote Shapiro.
Additional retailers are also expected to be unveiled in the coming months, including select Office Depot, OfficeMax, Fry’s and TigerDirect stores, he wrote.
Similar expansions are also happening in the 10 other markets worldwide where Chromebooks are sold, including 116 Tesco stores in the United Kingdom and Mediamarket and Saturn stores in the Netherlands, FNAC stores in France and Elgiganten stores in Sweden. In Australia, JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman stores will soon be carrying Chromebooks as well.
Chromebooks and their desktop brethren Chromeboxes run Google’s Chrome operating system and feature a wide range of preinstalled, cloud-based Google services and products, including Google Docs and Google Calendar.
Chromebooks allow users to do their work online with less need for on-machine storage for large applications and files. One shortcoming is that users need good connectivity to use their machines, and offline work can be a challenge, according to critics and reviewers. At the same time, the machines can be inexpensive and well-featured devices that allow users to accomplish a wide range of tasks without the bloat and mass of a traditional laptop or notebook machine.
Two IT analysts told eWEEK that they believe that the expanding retail networks for the devices is a smart move for Google.
Google Expands Chromebook Sales to Walmart and Staples Stores
“If you look at Chromebooks from a market strategy standpoint, most of them are priced quite aggressively,” said Charles King, principal of Pund-IT. “Walmart is going to expose the products to a huge consumer base that is extremely price-sensitive.”
That’s even more so in the United States, he said, where the “market seems to be moving away from traditional packaged software applications toward interactions that are primarily online-based or that utilize very specific types of applications. If you look at the way most people use the Web in most cases, maybe they are using a productivity app or maybe email. But the vast majority of their time is spent online. That’s a use where the Chromebook excels.”
Meanwhile, the Staples partnership will expose more small business people to Chromebooks, which will also help Google sell more of the devices, said King. “The two-pronged focus could work very well for Google.”
Maribel Lopez, principal of Lopez Research, told eWEEK in an email reply that “Google’s Chromebook needs to get as much exposure as possible” for it to be more successful in the marketplace.
“Walmart wouldn’t be my first choice, but the price is right for that channel and the scale of its retail stores makes sense for Google,” wrote Lopez. “Target has a ‘hipper’ branded image and I expect to see it there.”
The challenge remains, however, for Google to really drive sales of Chromebooks against competitors, many of which are fully featured laptops that can do more while also storing large amounts of data on the devices, wrote Lopez. “At the end of the day, I don’t expect Google Chromebooks to challenge any of the major platforms in terms of sales.”
One issue is that “Chromebooks aren’t about the hardware as much as they are about getting people to use all Google services such as Chrome browser and Google Apps,” wrote Lopez. “Google still makes money from understanding user behavior and monetizing it. For example, the K-12 schools in Malaysia will be using Chromebooks. Imagine what types of insights on user behavior [and other data] that could be learned.”
Back in March, Google had unveiled an earlier expansion of Chromebook sales to six more nations and to additional Best Buy stores in the U.S. At that time, the smaller, lighter and inexpensive Internet-centric computers were being rolled out by Acer, Hewlett-Packard and Samsung in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Consumers, however, haven’t been jumping aboard the Chromebook bandwagon in huge numbers, based on sales so far. In fact, several systems makers have released Chromebooks in the last year, but the systems haven’t stuck with consumers, causing some vendors to retreat or try again with new machines that offer expanded features.