I'm 99% sure I shouldn't be writing this article because it might be a bug and it's one I personally, really, really, really do not want Google to fix. But on the off-chance that it is indeed a new feature and for the sake of journalistic integrity (and at the expense of my own benefit), I'm going to tell you that something has changed in the Google Store recently and it's definitely for the better: you can now make purchases in any country's Google Store*.
*You have to have a shipping address in the country of your choosing, there's no getting around that limitation, but beside it, it works no questions asked. You can now:
- Purchase a gift for someone in Spain or France or other supported countries from your US Google account (for example) and have it shipped to them. You couldn't do that before.
- Purchase an item you want from the US Google Store through your Google account that is in a country where the Google Store does not exist, and have it shipped to an address in the US. (Replace with any other Google Store supported country too, provided you have friends or shipping addresses there). You definitely couldn't do that before.
- Pay with your debit or credit card, regardless of which country it was issued in.
- Track the shipment, see its status, cancel your order, and manage it all without a problem.
Before I show you how it works, let me tell you how it used to be. When I tried accessing store.google.com through my Google account that's based in Lebanon, I would get this page:
Image courtesy Google Operating System blog
I could click to visit the US site and browse the different pages and read about the different items, but whenever I got to any item's page on the US Store, the price box would be greyed out and read as Unavailable. I couldn't see prices, colors, options, or any of that. Side note: as an Android Police writer, this meant I was often asking my teammates to grab screenshots for me and confirm prices and SKUs because there was no way for me to see them.
Now, I get something different that you can see for yourself by heading to store.google.com/countrypicker:
I can choose from any country's store, click on it, agree that my cart will be emptied when switching countries, and off I am into a new world. The difference? Now, prices aren't greyed out on the item's page and I can easily browse different colors and options and see how much they'll cost.
The joy of seeing that blue "Choose Options" box instead of a grey "Unavailable" box.
Even better, I can pick an item and actually add it to my cart. I'll remind you: I'm on the US Google Store, but my Google account is definitely not in the US.
The bigger joy of adding items to my cart and checking out.
And even better-er and better-est, I can proceed to checkout, provide the shipping address of my friend in the US, add my non-US card's details, and place the order without a hitch.
When all is said and done, I get a confirmation screen and email, plus I can see the order in my order history, track it, manage it, and cancel it.
I didn't want to believe it until I saw this screen.
All of this wasn't possible for me before. I tried it with the US, UK, and French Google Stores and everything went well, provided I had a shipping address in the corresponding country. The fact that my Google account was based in Lebanon didn't matter one bit. Artem tried it on his US account and was able to get to the checkout step on the UK Store (but he didn't complete the purchase).
This seems like a bug... Maybe... I'm not sure. I'm cautiously optimistic that Google is starting to understand that people might want to gift items to residents of other countries, or that users might be moving to another country for a while and don't want to make purchases in their original country, or maybe they have friends coming over from a supported country and they want to buy stuff and ask them to bring it... the reasons are endless. And honestly, in the connected world we live in, being limited to one country and one store, even if legally justifiable, often feels alienating and not in touch with the reality of the way many of us live their lives.
But odds are more likely that it's a bug and the Google Store team will close this loophole soon enough. This article might even accelerate the fix — I'll be heartbroken and mourning in the comments section. But, in the meantime, if you have something you've been dying to buy overseas or a gift you want to surprise someone with in another country, right now's the time.
Again, the address you want is: store.google.com/countrypicker.
If this option remains available, I'm hoping Google would let the same sort of thing happen for the Play Store. There are horror stories of people having legit problems with their Google account being stuck to either a country they left a long time ago or a country whose language and available features don't resonate with them. Being able to manually choose which country your account is tied to is essential and removes a lot of headache from the automatic way Google handles it. It's not rocket science, Apple offers the option to manually change countries, and Google should do so too.
Like many of you presumed from the existence of the country picker page, this is a feature and not a fluke. A small post from +GoogleStore officially announced yesterday that you can now "send a device across the globe." So Google is marketing this as a way to gift or send items to people you know who live overseas, but we all know it will most likely be used by people outside the US who want to make purchases on the US Google Store and use a friend or forwarding address to bring it over to them. Nevertheless, it's an awesome change. Thanks, +David Schmidt!