If shopping is my cardio my fingers are getting a great work out.

The other week I was walking around one of Sydney’s fancier suburbs, doing a bit of window shopping, and happened to walk into a particularly special toyshop.

I was having a browse and noticed a really cute beanbag chair that would look great in my kid’s bedroom – but it was $150 and I thought that seemed a bit steep. So like any modern shopper I made a mental note to look it up later online. The only problem was, I forgot to snap a photo with my phone so when I got home I couldn’t remember the brand name.

“No worries,” I thought, I’ll just go online and find the shop’s online store. But this small business didn’t have an online store. Just when I was about to give up, I noticed that next to the business address on Google Maps there was a small image from inside the store. I clicked on the image and sure enough, I was able to do a virtual walk through of the entire store, locate the product on the shelf I had seen it on, zoom in to read the name and, Bob’s your uncle, I’d found it for half the price somewhere else online.

This was my first personal experience with Google Business Photos.

It’s a service Google actually launched back in April 2010 but, honestly, I’d never come across it before – it’s obviously taken some time to catch on. The service sees Google photographers arrange a time to come onto your small business premises and essentially take Google Street View photos from the inside of your shop, restaurant, or other small business.

“Attract more customers with Business Photos,” they say.

Well I can see how this might work for restaurants and other event venues. You’re researching the perfect location for your next big bash/engagement party/birthday/wedding and can do a virtual walk through? That could make compiling a shortlist of potential locations a matter of a few hours in front of your computer rather than days of scouting in the real world. What a brilliant idea.

But for a lot of small business, this surely has a lot of pitfalls and few, if any, upsides.

Your greatest strength as a small business owner is your presence in the community, convenience, and personal relationships with customers. They enjoy the experience of browsing the wares you’ve selected. They like the feel of your store and the types of products you stock. They like to say “hello” to you, but most importantly they like the immediacy and visceral pleasure of discovering an item, holding it in their hands and buying it on the spot.

For many people the old Carrie Bradshaw adage “Shopping is my cardio” remains a stalwart. They like the stroll, to touch and try on and turn objects over. But a potential 50 percent discount? I can afford my gym membership with those savings. It’s a pretty dramatic incentive for shoppers to abandon bricks-and-mortar for the online mall.

So thank you, Google Business Photos, for making sure I have maximum motivation to forsake my local businesses…while telling them it’s advertising. You’re a pal.

RACHAEL BOLTON

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