Samsung to open first Bay Area store in Apple's backyard Thursday

CNET gets a sneak peek at the company's first Samsung Experience Store at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
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Samsung Store Palo Alto

Samsung's store at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California, opens Thursday.

James Martin/CNET

Samsung is expanding its store presence -- right into Apple's backyard. 

The South Korean company on Thursday will open its first Samsung Experience Store in the San Francisco Bay Area. The location at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California, is only about 15 miles from Apple's headquarters in Cupertino. The downtown Palo Alto Apple Store -- opened long before the store on the Apple Park campus -- was long considered Apple's hometown store, and CEO Tim Cook often showed up at the location on iPhone launch days. The Stanford Shopping Center, the site of Samsung's new shop, also has an Apple Store.

But Samsung also has fans of its own in the Bay Area, it said.

Watch this: Samsung's first Bay Area store: A look inside

"Here in the Bay Area, we've got a tremendous, loyal following," said Allister Jones, senior vice president of retail operations and direct-to-consumer at Samsung Electronics America. He walked CNET through a tour of the new store on Tuesday, two days before it opened to the public. Black paper still covered the front windows, preventing shoppers from seeing the giant, white "5G" or the various flashy gadgets housed within.

"Equally importantly ... as a brand, we've had a presence in this part of the world for many years," Jones said. "So naturally, it's just somewhere to be considered from an expansion point of view."

Samsung is the world's biggest phone and TV maker, but it has only just started to operate its own US stores to sell its latest gadgets. In the past, it solely relied on partners like carriers and big box retailers to push its devices to consumers. In 2013, it started partnering with Best Buy on mini shops within the retailer's stores to show off Samsung's electronics. Then, in 2016, it opened the Samsung 837 showroom at 837 Washington in New York's Meatpacking District. The location houses demos of Samsung's various products but doesn't have devices for sale.

While Samsung still relies on carriers and other retailers, in late February it opened its first Experience Stores that actually have devices you can buy. It started with locations at The Americana at Brand in Los Angeles; Roosevelt Field on Long Island in Garden City, New York; and The Galleria in Houston. 

For Samsung, opening its own stores lets it have more of a direct link to customers. It also allows the company to provide better tech support and customer service as people hold onto their devices longer and as phones get more complex. Consumers have gotten used to how regular smartphones work, but Samsung's long-awaited foldable phone will introduce a completely new form of device that's foreign to pretty much everyone.

"We created Samsung Experience Stores to give Galaxy fans more of what they love -- the chance to experience our latest technologies in-person, with engaging product interactions and personalized care services," Samsung said in a November blog post announcing its plans for the new Bay Area store.

Not just phone sales

The Palo Alto location is similar to Samsung's three other stores -- but it's also been tweaked with what the company has learned from its other locations, Samsung's Jones said. 

"When people left the store they had an 88% likelihood of actually buying a Samsung device, but...before they entered the store it was less than half of that," he said. "So we kind of realized we're actually opening the best way for consumers to engage with Samsung Galaxy products."

The new store gives customers the chance to buy Samsung's newest gadgets but also offers one-on-one training and group classes for using devices. 

Samsung Store Palo Alto

Shoppers will be able to buy devices in Samsung's new store, as well as take classes and get tech support. 

James Martin/CNET

Customers also will be able to get tech support from onsite experts and get their broken devices fixed. It will take about an hour to replace a broken screen, for instance, said Fazal Din, who oversees Samsung's New York store and is the Bay Area for the Palo Alto opening. If Samsung needs to hold onto a broken device overnight or for several days, it has a program to give owners a loaner until their devices are repaired, he said. 

When it comes to burgeoning 5G technology, Samsung experts will be able to answer questions and educate users about how 5G is changing the way we live. 

"From streaming high-quality content at hyperfast speeds to enjoying breathtaking connected experiences, we want consumers to understand the groundbreaking impact 5G will have on their lives and their work," Samsung said Wednesday in a blog post.

There's one Samsung device that won't be on tables for shoppers to play with: the Galaxy Fold. Samsung's first foldable, which starts at $1,980, will be housed in a display at the front of the store. But all store associates have a model and can show it to potential buyers when asked. Samsung also will sell the Fold in its stores -- when it has them in stock, Jones said. 

Samsung also has expanded its services for small- to medium-size-business owners at its Experience Store. In the Bay Area, business owners will be able to work with Samsung representatives on requests, purchase devices for employees, get help setting up accounts and learn how to use services like Samsung's Knox security software.

Samsung's Experience Store opens Thursday in Silicon Valley

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Originally published Nov. 20.
Update, Dec. 11: Adds details from inside the store.