Why can’t retailers enable us to go on a virtual ‘safari’ in their stores?

Discussion
Source: Google Street View of Samburu National Reserve
Sep 22, 2015
Chris Petersen, PhD.

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the IMS Results Count blog.

Google has sent their cameras to Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve to enable online browsers to experience a virtual “safari” from their computer via Street View. It’s truly addictive and got me wondering: Why can’t retailers create the same experience for their stores?

Working with the Save the Elephants charity, Google mounted cameras on top of trucks and took photos along the trails traversing the 65-square-mile park. Just like the Street View on Google Maps, you can navigate along the route by using buttons on screen.

Why is this any different than watching a safari video? Nothing wrong with videos, but this is a unique interaction. You can change the view angle, zoom in and out, and change directions of where you go to seek out any of the lions, leopards or more than 600 elephants.

In the past eight years, Google has also been strapping cameras to trolleys, boats, snowmobiles, camels and even zip lines. Through immersive, interactive-rich content, Google has brought exotic locations to sofa surfers, including the top of Mount Fuji, the Great Barrier Reef and the Liwa Desert.

If Google can create a Street View in game trails in Kenya, why can’t retailers create a virtual tour of their stores?

Imagine the experience if retailers created a “Street View” for their store aisles and shelves:

  • After finding a product online or on your smartphone, a store map could pop up showing you where the product is located in-store;
  • Photos could pop up showing you the physical product on the shelf;
  • The coordinates could download to your smartphone to guide you in-store;
  • LED ceiling lights with navigation technology could guide you to within inches of the product on shelf;
  • With navigation buttons, you could also explore other aisles and displays for related products and accessories;
  • The “store safari” could show you the latest arrivals, displays and events at a local store.

How would the technology work? A shopping cart could take 360-degree photos of each position in the aisle so that consumers could “walk” down the aisle or turn sideways and see what is on the shelf. With a goal of clean navigation of the aisles and shelves, store views would be shot at night. Night shooting would also remove privacy concerns.

With more than 85 percent of consumers searching online before going to stores, retailers need better ways to engage consumers before they visit a store.

Retail is no longer about products at a price. Omnichannel is all about the experience — how to engage across virtual and physical touchpoints. The technology is available now. The question is, which retailer will create the first “store safari” online?

Should retailers explore creating virtual tours of their stores using Google Street View-type technology? In what ways do you see technologies possibly bringing an interactive in-store experience to online? What do you see as the potential benefit as well as the hurdles?

Braintrust
"Even the online sites of car dealers have personal chat functions that are designed to offer human help. That said, the idea of a technology-based safari of a retail location is useful to introduce new formats to associates and vendors alike."

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14 Comments on "Why can’t retailers enable us to go on a virtual ‘safari’ in their stores?"

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Bob Phibbs
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Let’s be clear, the person taking a virtual safari is probably not buying a safari package.

Retail is about people and engagement. A video of a store devoid of people, however many shiny objects you put into it, is a video of a warehouse.

The more retailers make their stores into warehouses, devoid of personality, people and place, the less likely they will convert people to paying customers.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

This is already doable and there are a number of companies who do it. The issue is one of cost and utility. This is technology in search of a purpose. Stuff is not hard to find in most stores. You need to redo the tour each time you change anything in a store (assortment, location, promotions, etc.). To the extent that your stores vary in any way, you need a separate tour for each store. If you want to make the products interactive, you run into massive bandwidth issues, never mind keeping it current.

Tom Redd
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

How much time do the Gen-Zers and Millennials have to waste? An in-store is experience fulfilled by being in-store. A safari via Google ain’t the same as a real safari. Let’s keep retail a bit closer to reality and not let the industry that was born around people, experience and trading become a modified video game.

The retail store that does not succumb to this stupid idea remains a TRUE retailer. Retail is still about the corner store feel.

Anne Howe
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Possible doesn’t always equate to profitable. This is another idea for a tech solution that gives the shopper a sterile and non-inviting experience. Better to engage in person with real people to help. That is what shoppers crave and respond to in-store. Even the online sites of car dealers have personal chat functions that are designed to offer human help.

That said, the idea of a technology-based safari of a retail location is useful to introduce new formats to associates and vendors alike.

Dick Seesel
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

I can see better uses for IT investment than “virtual safaris,” especially in brick-and-mortar stores that exist largely for the purpose of customer visits … including browsing, impulse shopping and so forth. And some stores (Forever 21 and TJX come to mind) thrive with a “treasure hunt” format that may not lend itself to this kind of technology anyway.

Perhaps in-store drones are not too far away, but in the meantime this idea falls into the “nice to do” rather than “need to do” category. Stores should focus their efforts on more effective inventory replenishment from the stockroom to the sales floor; providing customers with more interactive product information and, especially, more efficient and effective scheduling to meet customer service needs.

Joan Treistman
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Stephen explained the logistical challenges very well. Since he and I have both worked for many years with this kind of video for marketing research I acknowledge the feasibility but question the consumer motivation. We incent people to participate in research to evaluate package design, displays and price points using this technology.

For real-time shopping this activity is counter-intuitive to the convenience and speed shoppers want. Current online shopping meets the challenge of time constraints and visibility of brands, albeit a bit too small for the designers’ intended impact, but sufficient for consumers who are aware of the brand. That’s always an important concern of mine.

But I do see what marketers can retrieve from the in-store video data as described in the article. They’ll be able to track what stands out and gets the attention of the consumer. That’s not a trivial byproduct. I just don’t see how it will be a successful initiative for retailers who are looking to engage their shoppers.

Zel Bianco
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

I’m not sure what purpose a virtual tour of a store would serve and it seems like a lot of effort for very little payoff. Technology is like any other tool — you must choose when it can be effective and when it should stay out of the way.

Dan Raftery
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

This one is pretty silly. In addition to about two dozen reasons why retailers can’t do this, you can add another list of why they shouldn’t. Voyeurism is not a friend of retailing.

Dave Wendland
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

I couldn’t agree more. Engaging shoppers with an in-store experience before they ever enter the store is not a futuristic pipe dream, it could and should be reality. As an example: this blog post in Drug Store News compared it to the virtual tools/experiences my son had considering his college choice.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

So there are a few aspects that I’m thinking of for this idea. First, I think specific formats of stores will tend to be more appropriate for this “adventure” than others. For instance, DIY and grocery might prove more effective. However, who is the audience for this service? Someone shopping in a physical store? Someone who would rather shop online? Further, what are we trying to do? Take away the human experience of a physical store? That cannot be a good thing.

So I’m not certain this is all that great of an idea in the way it is described in this article. I do believe there may be pieces of this that may have merit.

Lee Kent
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Yes, retail does need to think more outside the box when it comes to engaging experiences, however this is not likely it. There is not really a captivating experience happening. Just shopping.

Of course there are companies that do this and there are some great applications. A friend of mine has developed this type of software and his customers use it for testing new products with focus groups. He has eye trackers throughout as well so he can detect how the consumers are reacting as they move through the store. It is very cool.

Let’s put our thinking caps back on and keep on thinking. Tours, video, fun and the hunt, are all good ideas to create experiences around.

And that’s my 2 cents

Gordon Arnold
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Traversing wide open spaces with a camera strapped to the top of a vehicle is not so dangerous as what might be proposed in this discussion topic. Racing through a store with weeks old topography information will get you lost and confused quickly in the land of never ending resets. And then there is the safety consideration for what may happen while paying more attention to the smart phone than where we are going. I would be willing to project big increase in slips, trips, falls and subsequent payouts that will go along with this. Hand held and heads up technology is not always the best or an inexpensive foolproof solution for successful navigation.

James Tenser
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Virtual “fly-throughs” of simulated retail environments have been possible for many years. They have some utility for consumer behavior researchers and store and fixture designers.
However, immersive 3D virtual environments don’t offer much of an advantage for big box or grocery shoppers. There are much faster ways to assemble an order that by simulating a meander through a store environment. Put another way, I see little benefit from automating an inefficient experience.

Virtual experiences of certain products, however, offer a degree of promise. Fashion merchandise that can be closely inspected and viewed comes to mind. A point-by-point review of the features of an automobile might be compelling to some shoppers. A virtual furniture showroom might have appeal.

Finally, it may be important to consider that more consumers interact with the online world on 5″ mobile screens, while very few have 3-D headsets at home.

Instead of trying to simulate an old-fashioned in-store experience online, merchants might do well to innovate with new mechanisms for browsing and discovery. How about a “let me browse this category” button, to start with?

Darius Vasefi
Guest
Darius Vasefi
2 years 2 months ago

The challenges far outweigh the benefits—at least till retail stores and products are fully smart (IoT enabled), potentially even drone and robot powered.

Nothing will replace the value of a helpful human being in engagement and search/recommendations and ideas. Everyone is talking about being “social” but the tools and behaviors are taking people farther away and more “anti-social.”

We should be using technology first to optimize the inter-personal and human potential of local retail.

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Braintrust
"Even the online sites of car dealers have personal chat functions that are designed to offer human help. That said, the idea of a technology-based safari of a retail location is useful to introduce new formats to associates and vendors alike."

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