Walking down the street and popping in to explore a locally owned shop is one of the great pleasures of visiting a town or city.  It remains to be seen whether doing so virtually via Google Street View — without leaving the comfort of your easy chair — is as rewarding, and whether this new technology will help or harm brick and mortar retail businesses.

The use of Street View technology to look inside shops is still in its early stages, and there are more restaurants, hotels and museums in the database than retailers.  Anyone using Google maps (and that would be almost everyone, wouldn’t it?) can already use Street View to see the exteriors of almost every building in the country.  The 360° interior view option is indicated on a Google map by the small gold man in the lower righthand corner. Clicking on that icon  brings up the “Browse Street View” toolbar, with a gold dot indicating the “See Inside” feature. It also offers “Photo Sphere,” which is a 360° exterior view.

The Google team can photograph the regular Street View or Photo Sphere without special permission, but obviously coming inside a business and making a 360° movable inside image requires the involvement of the business owner.  Google has compiled a list of certified photographers in most areas, and businesses interested in participating in Business View are asked to contact a photographer to schedule a photo shoot. 

Although at this time there is no fee due to Google, you will need to pay for the photography necessary to participate in Business View. The more viewpoints you want to feature, the longer it is going to take to create a virtual tour.  You might be able to save on the photography fee by having two or more businesses in your area book to be shot on the same day.  Costs will probably run in the $300 to $1,000 range.

Google has put together a video of sample Business View of a retail store that is very helpful. It shows the zoom feature available to the consumer, and the clarity of the images. It also highlights one of the challenges of this technology for a shop: although the basic look of the store usually doesn’t change very much, the specific merchandise (especially in a fashion retailer) can vary quite a bit as time goes on. The specific goods seen on the day that the tour is created may no longer be there in a month or two.

This will also be a challenge if the predictions for future interactivity come to pass — word has it that you will eventually be able to zoom in on an item, select and order it. If your stock changes regularly, as it should, this won’t work very well. But hopefully a virtual tour on Google Business View will serve to inspire potential customers to make a trip to visit your store in person. 

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder