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Driving Real Traffic with Virtual Tours 

Retail Virtual Tours
Credit: iStock

Virtual tours can be a powerful branding tool, but they aren’t something retailers always consider in their marketing efforts. One of the most likely reasons for this is because they want customers to actually come in. After all, that’s why they have a storefront and not just an online business. But virtual tours may end up being beneficial in the long run, especially as many stores remain operating under capacity limits.  

A research study conducted by the International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management in May 2020 found that virtual tours enhanced store equity and promoted store visit intentions. Participants were shown virtual tour stimuli and then asked to complete an online survey. The results showed that sensory and behavioral experiences directly increased intentions to visit the store, whereas intellectual and emotional experiences promoted visit intentions via enhanced brand equity.  

So how do you get started in creating one of these things?  

Setting Up a Virtual Tour 

Well, despite popular belief, making a virtual tour isn’t quite as hard as you’d think and you certainly don’t need a professional film crew to do so (unless of course your budget allows; then go for it). One way to whip up a virtual tour of your store is with a smartphone and a Google Business listing.   

Using the Google Street View app, you can take a series of photos that can be stitched together to form a 360-degree field of view. Google offers some guidance on making the 360 photos look seamless and also lets you keep trying until you get it just right. If you want to take it up a notch, you can purchase a 360 camera relatively cheaply, or even hire a professional who specializes in Google Street photography.  

To further enhance a virtual tour, you can also add image overlays to highlight certain aspects of your store or showroom. A rich, 2D image can call attention to a specific product and list further details like price, availability, etc.  

Google says listings with photos and a virtual tour are twice as likely to generate interest. To add to that, listings with photos and tours motivate customers to make a purchase 29 percent of the time.  

Getting people in the door used to be half the battle when it came to retailing but now, and especially during the pandemic, creating a strong digital presence, establishing trust, and meeting customers where they are has proven to be of equal importance.