If you're a regular Android Police reader, you probably don't need any "sales assistance" when picking out a new phone, tablet, or laptop - pretty much everything you could want to know is just a web search away. But some people appreciate the personal touch, which is why those guys in the blue shirts at Best Buy still have jobs. To help out these sorts of shoppers, Google is offering live video chat assistance for hardware shoppers on the Play Store.


Image credit: TechCrunch

The new service leverages Google's own Helpouts service (an instruction and assistance portion of video Hangouts) and the infrastructure of the Play Store. To start a live video chat, go to the Devices section of the Play Store, click the help button (the question mark icon in the upper-right corner), and select "video chat." The service is only available between 6 AM and 6 PM Pacific time, and the operators are only technically certified to answer questions about phones, tablets, and Chromebooks (and even then, only the ones in the Play Store). Right now the option is only visible if you visit a relevant page, and sometimes not even then - I can't get it to appear in my browser for some reason.

The live video chat isn't exactly a revolution; Google already offers text chat and phone support for shoppers. (And frankly, that kind of instant response would be much more useful after a purchase than before.) TechCrunch asked sources at Google about the company's plans to expand video-assisted shopping. At least one source said that the current program is in a testing phase and has been since November. A possible outcome is a "virtual Genius Bar" in retail locations, where brick-and-mortar shoppers can ask questions through a custom video chat kiosk.

That makes at least some sense. Currently specialized retail employees from companies like Samsung and Apple operate tiny mini-stores inside Best Buy locations in the US, giving shoppers an "expert" who's presumably more informed and more interested than your typical counter staff. Going digital would allow a single Google employee or contractor to offer the same service to multiple stores. Whether or not Google will actually go through with it will probably hinge on the success of the current web-based program... specifically, how often users who use the video chat system go on to buy hardware.