Inside Meta’s first retail store, now open in Bay Area

The first physical retail outpost of the company formerly known as Facebook is not likely to draw much foot traffic from customers who don’t wear a Meta employee badge. That’s because it’s not located in Union Square or Westfield San Francisco Centre but rather in Burlingame, tucked into the tech giant’s waterfront campus just a few feet from an on-site Equator coffee shop. The showroom, which is now open to the public, is roughly the size of a large three-bedroom apartment, like a miniature Apple store with the chrome swapped for blond wood and speckled marble.

The most striking part of the showroom is the demo zone for the Quest 2, a virtual reality headset from Oculus (which Meta bought in 2014 for $2 billion), where users can play virtual reality games like “Beat Saber,” “Golf Plus,” fitness game “Supernatural” or, if you’re angling for some angling, “Real VR Fishing.” A wall-sized video screen shows what’s going on inside the headset, while a team of Meta employees stands by with game play tips and gentle reminders to remove the headset if you feel sick. Jokes about the best place to vomit were received with awkward silence.

Aside from the Quest, the showroom also serves as a place to test-drive two other pieces of technology. Portal is a video conferencing tablet that was released in 2018 and had a moment in the early days of the pandemic. The second gadget, Ray-Ban Stories, does much less than you’d expect, for better or worse. They’re basically slick sunglasses with a hidden camera and tiny speakers. Last year SFGATE columnist Drew Magary gave a pair a test, calling them dystopian and predicting that eventually we’d all own a pair.

The interior of the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif. on May 4, 2022.
The interior of the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif. on May 4, 2022.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Nice to Meta you

The real reason most people will find themselves at a Meta store is to test the Quest headset.

SFGATE culture editor Dan Gentile tries out the game "Supernatural" on the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset at the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., on May 4, 2022. The game was broadcast on a large screen in the Meta Store.

SFGATE culture editor Dan Gentile tries out the game “Supernatural” on the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset at the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., on May 4, 2022. The game was broadcast on a large screen in the Meta Store.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

As someone who was required by their employer to watch Mark Zuckerberg’s entire presentation on the metaverse, I was particularly curious about seeing Facebook’s future through the lenses of a shiny new Quest 2, whose sleek white design comes with a price tag of $299.


I signed up for the demo and waited for a text alerting me it was my turn, functionality clearly intended for locations in proximity to other retail. Meanwhile, I browsed through a list of games on the store’s so-called “wonder wall.” The vertical touchscreen showed demos of big-budget VR titles like “Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond” and “Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge,” plus curiosities like a nightclub emulator and their open-universe metaverse platform called “Horizon Worlds.” Unfortunately none of these titles were available to actually try — true to the display screen’s snappy name, when it came to the quality of these marquee titles, all I could do was wonder.

For my personal demo of the Quest, I choose to try “Supernatural” at the recommendation of the staff, who said it was the most intense game. Once I put on my headset, the workout app transported me to an immersive Icelandic setting where boxing instructor Leanne Pedante gave me a quick tutorial on hooks, jabs and uppercuts while standing in front of a mountain.

Douglas Zimmerman / SFGATE

Then the game started and a series of floating orbs began flying toward my face. The format should be familiar to anyone who’s played “Dance Dance Revolution” or “Guitar Hero” — just punch the orbs, then punch some more. There were also incoming limbo sticks to duck and weave under, adding a core component to the workout. After five minutes, I felt a little winded, then for the last five I was transported to a volcano in Ethiopia were the pace did indeed become quite intense. I definitely would not want to be forced to do an hourlong session in the company of strangers.

Those looking for an interactive at-home workout experience could do much worse; however, the demo didn’t show me anything new. The four titles available to try were essentially VR ports of Nintendo Wii games. Perhaps it’s due to licensing issues or the unpredictability of an open-world environment like “Horizon Worlds,” but gamers interested in testing the limits of this next generation technology will still have to wait.

SFGATE culture editor Dan Gentile tries out the game "Supernatural" on the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset at the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., on May 4, 2022. The game was broadcast on a large screen in the Meta Store.

SFGATE culture editor Dan Gentile tries out the game “Supernatural” on the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset at the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., on May 4, 2022. The game was broadcast on a large screen in the Meta Store.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Meta-morphosis

A Meta representative said that there’s currently no officially announced plans to take the retail concept beyond the company’s campus, but expansion seems like a natural next step from both a sales and marketing standpoint. The opportunity to turn users into customers who pay with more than just their data is obviously huge, but after spending an hour in the store, what struck me most is that selling VR headsets isn’t the real value of Facebook stepping off screens and into stores.

Mark Zuckerberg has always been and will continue to be a figurehead, but other than him, Facebook as an entity has always been a bit, well, faceless. Despite the thousands of employees and small army of contractors moderating content, most users of Meta products don’t ever see or speak with a human who works for the company.

Meta Store employee Katie Contreras explains how to SFGATE culture editor Dan Gentile how to wear the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset at the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif. on May 4, 2022.
Meta Store employee Katie Contreras explains how to SFGATE culture editor Dan Gentile how to wear the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset at the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif. on May 4, 2022.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Currently the only public-facing moments associated with the brand take place in congressional courts or on a foil board. A retail shop, wedged between a couple high-end clothing boutiques, gives Meta a physical presence. The company doesn’t have the product line to position itself as a lifestyle brand a la Apple, but it seems inevitable that it’ll enlist its own version of Genius Bar-tenders (Meta-ristas?) as frontline marketing in an attempt to soften a scandal-hardened image.

Is this store something consumers actually need? Right now the answer seems like no, but if they upped the wow factor on the Quest demo and put this in a mall, it could actually be a fun way to kill a few minutes while shopping.




The exterior of the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., on May 4, 2022.

The exterior of the new Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., on May 4, 2022.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE