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London designer store bridges bricks and clicks

By Retail Technology | Friday March 28 2014

New technology enables customer to visit and shop iconic stores online, with London designer clothes retailer Start London as launch partner

Start London has partnered with a newly launched virtual reality technology that aims to bring the physical store to consumers' laptops and mobile devices across the globe.

The developer of the patent pending technology is Avenue Imperial, a London based start-up that provides retailers with the technology to bring their iconic stores, stylish layouts and individual selection of merchandise to consumers online. 

Using high definition (HD) panoramic photography, Avenue Imperial updates the virtual recreation of each store on a weekly basis, so that the ‘virtual store’ closely resembles the actual store on an ongoing basis. 

Alongside Start London, The Corner in Berlin is also one of the start-up's first retail partners. But the developer said it is due to add a number of globally known brands and multi-brand stores soon.

Starting up innovative digital strategy

Retail Technology heard exclusively from Natalie Duthie, digital manager at Start, about working with Avenue Imperial. Duthie said she and the company director were immediately interested by the technology during an initial meeting with Avenue Imperial in January. 

“We were both so impressed with the virtual tour that we agreed to be launch partners then and there,” she explained. 

“We understand how important it is to be innovative and relevant in digital retail, but as a small company lacking the resources of the larger players in the industry this isn't always easy. Avenue Imperial has offered us a cost-effective way to introduce a cutting-edge concept to our e-commerce site.”

Duthie also said the company is currently integrating Avenue Imperial's virtual tour technology and hopes to have it live on the site imminently. 

Interactivity adds extra dimension

The brainchild of former derivatives trader Nicolas Rossi, tech-industry veteran Julian Ball and panoramic photographer and programmer Tom Mills, the technology uses each HD panorama to capture 30 or more products, with a store average of 100 panoramas, allowing a retailer to potentially offer over 3,000 products that can be updated each week.

Avenue Imperial charges a small percentage of any transaction generated through the system, although transaction and delivery details remain with the store. Customers can also select items through a ‘SnapShot’ function and connect with a store assistant for detailed advice and to purchase their items. 

The developer also said its technology offers stores integration with their existing e-commerce product offering. Users can also share their shopping experiences on Avenue Imperial with friends by posting images on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, also linking their friends to the virtual store.

Enabling access to real stores

Nick Rossi, Avenue Imperial chief executive, said: “A store is much more than just a product catalogue and this is why so many stores and brands are still doing so well despite the proliferation of e-commerce. 

"Stores and brands put a huge amount of effort into product selection, the presentation of products, the training of their staff, as well as the overall shopping and brand experience, so why not allow consumers access to all of that from the comfort of their own homes?”

Duthie of Start also commented: “The virtual tour will open up a totally new way to shop online, one that's more akin to the shopping instore. 

"This technology will take us to the next level of being an omnichannel retailer, as we strive to make the online customer experience as similar to instore as possible. As a boutique we're proud of our individuality, and we really want the Start personality to shine through on our website. 

“Literally placing the online customer in the store, albeit virtually, will help us create this feeling more than ever before. In addition to hopefully boosting conversion and revenue for our e-commerce business, we're also viewing the virtual tour as a branding tool to generate footfall to our bricks and mortar stores and to increase social media engagement.”

Tapping into emerging market

Duthie reported that Start will also be launching with the affiliate offering of the Avenue Imperial package, adding that the company will “seriously consider” integrating the SnapShot tool, which would allow online customers to start a conversation with its sales associates.

Julian Ball, Avenue Imperial chief technology officer, added: “The patent pending Snapshot function will ‘bring’ online customers into a physical store. 

“We are starting with the high-end fashion sector but see a future for mid-tier fashion, art galleries, furniture stores and specialist shops, anything with a unique offer and store experience to share with the world.”

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