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Posted on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Google virtual tours let you get up close and personal with Ann Arbor businesses

By Lizzy Alfs


Vault of Midnight owner Curtis Sullivan recently signed up for Google's Business Photos service.

Melanie Maxwell |

A Google service hitting the Ann Arbor area is taking online shopping to a new level.

With Google’s Business Photos service, customers can browse the shelves of a store from their computer screen.

The service, which the company announced in 2010, gets customers off the street and inside storefronts with interactive, 360-degree online tours of businesses. It's only available in select markets, and it recently started rolling out in the Ann Arbor area.

At downtown Ann Arbor’s Vault of Midnight comic book store, Internet users can zoom in on shelves of comic books, peruse a wall of hanging T-shirts and check out a rack of board games.

The range of motion on the virtual tour, said store owner Curtis Sullivan, is “amazing.”

“You can go all the way up and down the store,” he said. “It’s totally nuts.”

Google’s Business Photos is an opt-in program: Businesses pay a "trusted Google photographer" to come and take a series of still interior photos, which are then stitched together to create panoramic walkthroughs.

“With business photos, your customers can walk around, explore, and interact with your business like never before," Google says on its website. "Customers will be able to truly experience your business — just like being there.”

The virtual tour then appears on a business's Google Places page, and it can be embedded on the store’s website and social media pages.

“We’re going to use (the virtual tour) as much as possible,” Sullivan said. “I just love the idea of being able to drop in from space and come into our store; I thought it was perfect.”

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Doug Willett of Livonia-based Luna Tech 3D, one of the few certified Google photographers in the area, has been taking business photos for Google in the greater Detroit market for two and a half months.

So far, he said, Luna Tech 3D has created virtual tours for more than 200 businesses.

“The first couple weeks it was pretty hard because nobody knew anything about it and we were knocking on doors every day,” he said. “Now, more and more people are finding out about it … it’s been very nice for our phone to be ringing.”

Willett said business owners are charged a one-time fee typically between $375 and $975 for the service, depending on the store size. It takes less than an hour to shoot the interior of a business, and the virtual tour appears online within 48 hours, he said.

Willett and his team just started marketing in the Ann Arbor area, and a handful of local businesses have already opted-in, including Vault of Midnight, Renaissance clothing store, Goldfish Swim School, University Aquarium and Pet Shop, and Zaragon Place apartments.

“Really, in Ann Arbor, it’s just getting started,” Willett said. “We’re creating the awareness out there. It’s kind of where we were at in the Metro Detroit area a month and a half ago.”

Rebecca Burlingame, general manager at Ann Arbor’s Goldfish Swim School, said the business paid for the virtual tour because describing the facility over the phone “doesn’t really do it justice.”

“When people have the ability to do a 360-degree tour and get a sense of the facility and what it has to offer, it’s a really great marketing technique for a business so people have a better idea of what they can expect,” she said.

She added: “The only thing that could make it better is if you could feel the 90 degree water.”

(Check out Goldfish Swim School's virtual tour here)

Willett said it’s that online visibility that helps businesses stand out in a competitive market.

“The question is: How do you stand out from your competition when people are searching for things on the Internet?” he asked. “At the end of the day, it’s all about driving traffic back to that website.”

Willett, whose firm has worked with Google Earth for years, said the Business Photos service has also given Luna Tech 3D a "big boost" in business.

“We’re a small business here in Michigan trying to make a go of it …. Since we’ve started the Business Photos, we’ve had to bring on additional people,” he said. “It’s grown so much faster than anything we’ve done in the past.”

For more information and to check out virtual tours of businesses around the world, visit Google’s Business Photos website.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Mon, Mar 4, 2013 : 4:46 p.m.

Willet is no longer in the Ann Arbor area but you can contact your local 360 Photo pro at or by contacting Middy Matthews at and schedule a time to discuss your options.

George Randy Bass

Mon, Aug 27, 2012 : 1 a.m.

360° Virtual Panoramic Tours are very powerful presentations. They place visitors in the center of an area and allows them to navigate 360° in any direction to get a full view of the area. Super, informative and interactive customer experience. Take a look a virtual tour of Charleston S.C., USA

Dog Guy

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 6:59 p.m.

Deja Vu?


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

It would be even better if let's say, the shop owner was in the tour, and when you click on him or her, it would open a video and they would tell you a little about the business.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

This wont help me with any shopping, especially if it is a shop or store in downtown AA. It's a hassle to park, costs too much and the pan handlers are tough to take.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 6 p.m.

I believe Goober has a right to his opinion wether we agree with his position or not - all without insult. For those on limited incomes, trying to stretch all available dollars, places like Costco and Walmart help greatly.

Jenny Wolff-Harrison

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

HI all. I am a photographer in the Ann Arbor area who is going through the process of becoming a Google Trusted Independent photographer. When I started the process I was told I would be the first in the area and that we are to stay in our assigned cities. I am a bit surprised to learn about Luna Tech 3D but happy to know people/business are interested in the service. I personally think it is really neat to be able to take a virtual tour of a retail store or restaurant before you set out to go shopping or plan a special night out.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 11:21 a.m.



Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 9 p.m.

I love this idea! I'm hoping it will increase revenue for Ann Arbor businesses

Linda Peck

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 8:33 p.m.

I love it, being naturally nosey.


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 8:26 p.m.

I don't care what a store looks like, inside or out, I just want the item I am looking for, its product information and its price. This is sooooooo 1990's. It looks like Google is looking backwards instead of forward! They should create a virtual store for the business instead of photographing the store itself!


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

Sarcasm font needed @sigdiamond.


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

Yeah, this fly-by-night "Google" outfit doesn't stand a chance in today's ultra-competitive technology space.


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 8:01 p.m.

People's Food Co-Op has a virtual tour too.

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

Yes! Thank you.

Jojo B

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

I always wanted to know what was in the lower level of the store, but when I go down the stairs to explore, I'm magically teleported back up to the 1st floor.

say it plain

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 7:39 p.m.

So, this is like when Real Estate Websites show a "virtual tour" online, right? How much do those cost sellers/realtors to do? Just curious to know about variation in pricing for essentially the same service, I presume. I'd guess stores that would surprise people with their extensive inventories (like Vault of Midnight, for instance!) would benefit, while others might do better letting the details of the interiors remain to be seen...


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

I would like to know if this has helped generate sales for a business that opted for this virtual tour. If they claim it did generate additional business, how do they know this?


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 9:05 p.m.

A lot of owners ask customers how they heard about the store. They have always done that.


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

Time will tell.

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

Good question, @Itchy. I'll have to check back in with some of these businesses when they've had the service for a few months to see.