If you use Google maps, then you’re probably familiar with Street View. As the name suggests, Street View allows users to literally fly down to street level and have a 360-degree look around.
In April of this year Google began expanding the concept to include 360-degree photography of interior business spaces within Street View functionality. Now the program is officially rolling out in Australia, Japan, the U.S., and New Zealand and is focusing exclusively on small businesses including restaurants, bars and retail stores. Businesses who want to have their location photographed by a “Google-trusted” photographer have to apply.
This is about more than pretty pictures
According to Google, the idea behind shooting interiors is to provide potential customers with immersive imagery that would simply make them more comfortable with deciding to visit businesses. While that is undoubtedly one outcome, I think there’s either more to this than Google is admitting to at the moment. Or it could be that they are missing out on a much larger opportunity. Given Google’s savvy, I tend to think it’s the former.
The opportunity lies in the astounding fact that almost half of all small retailers in North America do not have a website of any kind. Those that do often have something that looks like a glorified yellow pages ad –static and outdated. It’s a segment of the market that is woefully lacking in offering consumers any degree of web-based experience.
What Street View Interiors offers is the core of web experience that begins to make a business’ Google Place page feel a lot more like a decent website. My bet would be that that’s exactly what Google wants business owners to begin to regard their Places page as – their website. A fully baked Places page now can contain reviews, maps, directions and telephone numbers, offers and an immersive 360-degree tour of the location and surrounding area. Add in applications like Google Checkout, and you have a fully functioning website with e-commerce capability – a quantum leap for the average small retailer.
I’m Seen Therefore I am
Small retailers have never really excelled at e-commerce. The reason in most cases is quite simple. Many buyers feel that there’s a risk in ordering something from some hole in the wall store they’ve never heard of. Without a well-known store brand name to rely on, most consumers aren’t willing to chance it. It’s been a perennial problem for small retailers.
Through Street View’s interior shots, would-be consumers can at least confirm that the store in fact exists, lending a significant sense of pre-buy confidence. If the store also happens to be well kept, stocked and merchandised (at least at the time it was photographed), it might just seal the deal.
In what has become the ultimate game of online chess, my guess is that Google is thinking at least a few moves ahead. In this case, the strategy as I see it is for Google Places to become the de facto home page and ecommerce portal for millions of small businesses worldwide – a massive opportunity, if they can tap it.