ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. - New technology is allowing customers to visit local businesses without ever putting a foot in the store.
Offering a click instead of a car ride, Google has launched business photos that give a virtual 360-degree tour of not just the outside of a building, but also the inside.
"It feels like you could reach out and touch the products," said Sally Weleczki-Cmiel, a photographer shooting pictures for the project at kids store Kiddywampus in St Louis Park. "You see the dolls and the books and the games.
That's because photographers, who are contractors that Google trains through an online program, shoot every inch and every angle of the store, taking shots about every 10 feet. The photos are pieced together and about a week later, they are posted online.
The shoot at Kiddiewampus took about two hours. It generated 350 photos and for at least one mother, the virtual tour made her son's birthday party at the store picture perfect.
"She was able to use the interactive map with her son to go through the store, to walk him down the hall, to show him where the party room was, so that it was familiar to him," said Kiddywampus owner Amy Saldanha. "And he had such a great experience."
And since that experience isn't limited to local customers, it can give even small businesses big exposure.
"My husband is from Bombay," Saldanha. "And this is the first time our family and cousins there have been able to come inside my shop, which is delightful."
Google wants every business to have that. About a dozen photographers are shooting Twin Cities businesses, adding new tours almost daily.
"It is just the beginning," Weleczki-Cmiel said.
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