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Street View Becomes Store View


I recently read the BBC News article about Google launching its Street View technology to document interior retail spaces and other environments. I believe the implications for the architectural and design profession are immense: By “being there” through richer online experiences, we can engage in more compelling conversations with clients about relevant retail environments around the globe in real time. It seems a logical evolutionary step following the growth of smartphones, higher quality cameras, Facebook and location check-ins.

As the service expands and more brands participate in Google’s service, we will soon have the ability to enter real spaces but shop their shelves virtually, for example, to recall that item you saw inside a store but can’t remember the name. Or maybe you want to skip lines during the holiday shopping season; stores can update panoramic images of their seasonal merchandising to the Google servers and customers can essentially visit the store on a sale day to shop through images and panoramas, but complete the purchases online on the retailer’s website.

Recently I have been using Photosynth when I visit architecture projects as the static set of photos of a place never really conveys the experience of being there. For instance, I traveled through the recently completed SFO T2 terminal and shot this panorama. Using my iPhone, within 5 minutes I posted to the Photosynth site and to my Facebook page, and almost instantly a searchable 3d panorama was live online with a GPS location for anyone to find it. Like YouTube videos, the panorama is meta-tagged and linked to several other users’ panoramas – so you can virtually walk through almost the entire airport starting with my panorama or anyone else’s. Previously I had found that static views of the terminal never really explained its quality of openness, natural light and scale of the art installations. Now, by using apps to create a panorama we can convey the experience far more deeply than a single image ever can.

We often debate that online shopping takes away the immersive experience of “being there.” Though you might still miss the human connection that a physical store enables, Google’s latest Street View developments might just be that missing link between in-person and virtual shopping experiences. And suddenly the store environments and experiences we design are visible to a much broader audience.

Irwin Miller
Irwin Miller is a co-leader of Gensler’s global retail practice, and a design principal in the Los Angeles office. Focused on brand integration and user experience in retail environments, Irwin is forever motivated by his own daily encounters with design – finding inspirations everywhere from the county fair to summer holidays with family in Europe. Contact him at irwin_miller@gensler.com.

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