360 virtual tours can help Scotland’s economy rebound faster and more resiliently, even if the third Covid wave rolls back unlocking, say businesses benefitting from using them during and after the second Lockdown, as well as sector experts.
The retail, hospitality and arts sectors have all been hit hard by long lockdown closures. But 360 tours have helped some businesses in them to trade online during Lockdown and nudge real-life visits once regulations permitted them. Each has moved to a more resilient business model as a result.
High Street retail, has been hit very hard by long Lockdown closures. Footfall numbers for May released by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) on June 4 showed it was still 24.7% less than May 2019.
Even once all shops have been able to reopen, uncertainty has remained about how sustained any initial recovery will be, especially if the UK nations’ unlocking roadmaps have to brake or reverse because of rising infections driven by the Delta variant.
On June 4, Ewan Macdonald-Russell of the SRC said: “Reopening alone has yet to prove a magic bullet for our hard-pressed retail industry…which remains unable to trade at capacity due to physical distancing and caps on the number of customers in stores. Without a rebound in footfall and increased demand, many retailers will struggle to make ends meet, placing a question mark over the viability of stores and jobs and the vitality of our retail destinations.”
Mr Macdonald-Russell called on The Scottish Government to “think more creatively … about how they might reignite consumer confidence, entice people back into our retail destinations, and kick-start demand.”
360 virtual tours helping since 2nd Lockdown
By contrast, retail, arts and hospitality businesses using Matterport 360 virtual tours made by Kinross-shire firm 360 Virtual Studios have been enjoying rebounding sales and visitors from around the world during and after Scotland’s second lockdown.
And they’re confident their recoveries will be resilient thanks to modifying their business models to include the marketing tool which, amongst other things, enables ‘360commerce’ sales – people buying things after clicking links in information boxes called ‘MatterTags’.
They allow virtual visitors to access videos, photos and audio related to real-life objects or places seen as well as links for more information or to order items. Online-originated sales proved vital to keeping cashflow going during the second lockdown and would help revenue streams continue through any future opening restrictions. Since reopening physically, tours have also promoted offline visits too.
Eileadh Swan, Director of Morningside Gallery in Edinburgh, says the three virtual tours she’s commissioned and embedded in her website have been making a great impact: “Sales have been extremely positive and we have excellent feedback from both our customers and artists across the UK and Europe. This has changed how we conduct our business going forward – half our sales are now online.
“Normally, customers would be contacting us asking for more images or videos of a piece before enquiring about buying it, but instead they’re using the tours and information on the website. We had a plinth with small paintings on it and a MatterTag linking to a collection of them. Sales of them shot up as a result.
“Being able to get a sense of a piece online in high resolution showcases artwork in a way you can’t capture with photography alone. The Mattertags’ with links next to pieces are perfect for directing customers to information about the artist. And it’s an engaging way for people to experience the gallery – many are saying it feels like they’ve been able to visit in person.”
Following the success of the initial 360 tour, which was viewed almost 7,000 times, Eileadh commissioned a second, called Sculptural Surfaces, featuring paintings with a three-dimensional aspect. Analytics data show its 360 panoramas were viewed by more than 8,000 times by 478 people in seven weeks. Its success led to a third tour – of the latest exhibition, Scott Naismith – Meta Landscape. It was viewed 1,249 times in the first week by 269 people.
Eileadh believes 360 tours can help other galleries and shops ‘sell’ the experience of visiting the space and advises them to think about what they’d show visitors in a real-life guided tour before commissioning one.
Leigh Sparks, Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, says: “Confidence for retailers and consumers will take some time to build, develop and consolidate. Anything that adds engagement is helpful, as is giving people confidence in going somewhere new and seeing how it works.
“Online sales have grown but physical stores still have a vital place. In-person retail will still play a part because people like going out and shopping. Independents are realising both digital and physical can work for them, too.”
Tourism & Hospitality
Uncertainty is also haunting the tourism and hospitality sectors. However the Newhall Estate wedding and event venue in Midlothian is already fully booked for weddings this year and next.
Its Matterport 360 tour gave couples searching for a wedding venue with self-catering accommodation enough confidence to make bookings during the second lockdown, which Director Jak Kennedy says was “a crucial element helping to keep us afloat during the pandemic”.
“We weren’t getting bookings without individuals visiting the venue before, but thanks to the virtual tour and interactive floor plan people were happy enough to book without seeing the venue in person.
“We’ve had extremely positive feedback from couples – saying the technology has given them a sense of confidence by having the ability to view all of the main rooms at their discretion. The interactive floor plan linked to the tour has been a gamechanger and helped people planning sleeping arrangements and for guests with specific requirements,” adds Jak.
While most couples have returned to visiting in person before booking since that was possible, Jak says the tour has been “crucial” in showcasing the spaces 24/7 – allowing couples to see them at weekends when weddings mean they can’t be on-site. “This also allows us and our customers to make the best use of time – they no longer have to make multiple visits to check layouts and measurements as it’s all available in exact detail online,” he points out.
Newhall Estate has also found its tour filters out wasted visits by those who don’t feel the spaces are right for them. That has led to a jump in the conversion rate of visits leading to bookings – as only those who already like the space will visit in real life for a final check before booking.
As a result, Newhall Estate plans to keep using 360 tours. “This is an absolutely invaluable tool,” says Jak. “This puts us in a much better position if restrictions have to be tightened again. If other venues took this on it would 100% improve bookings and they’d be less likely to be spending time with people who don’t like their space.”
Travel, tourism and hospitality marketing consultant Sarah Brown, Director of Mud Marketing, says: “360 tours are already playing a vital role for tourism and hospitality and will continue to whatever happens. I’ve been using them since I commissioned one for Crieff Hydro in 2013.
“360 tours in hospitality allow website visitors to gain more in-depth knowledge – to assist with purchasing decisions. Because 360 tours such as Matterport are becoming a normal tool due to estate agents using them, visitors understand and interact well with them.
“My client Glamis Castle commissioned a Matterport tour in lockdown to create income when the castle was closed. It continues to sell its unique qualities to those who can’t travel yet, so is a way for us to continue to tap into the European and American markets.”
Arts and culture venues only resumed in-person visiting on April 26. Their recovery is being aided by the £1 million Creative Digital Initiative support programme to develop digital capabilities announced by The Scottish Government on March 23.
Even once the sector has been able to reopen, uncertainty has remained about how sustained any initial recovery will be, especially if Scotland’s unlocking roadmap has to brake or reverse.
New revenue streams
Celia Joicey, Director of Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios, says its Matterport tours allowed the celebrated venue to weather the worst of the second lockdown by exploring new ways of generating revenue from its global audience.
Paid virtual Tapestry Studio tours and exhibition visits provided essential income. “While closed we continued to make and share artworks with partners and visitors in incredible detail,” says Celia. “The technology gave us the flexibility to experiment and lead innovation in our programming as well as the format of exhibitions.”
Paid virtual tours
“Crucially, we can record the exact number of visits and collect information about geographical reach, which is extremely helpful when it comes to exploring further international interest.”
Celia recently gave a guided tour of the gallery to the Principal of Edinburgh College of Art by sharing Dovecot’s Matterport tour with him in a Zoom call. Virtual visitors enjoyed a paid guided tour of the Archie Brennan: Journeys in Tapestry show and one of the Tapestry Studio. Those can continue even if unlocking rolls back.
Fife Cultural Trust has also been using 360 tours to market and communicate about its culture venues since 2013, including a Matterport one of Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries (DCLG).
Customer Engagement Manager, Laura Crielly, says: “When we created our ShineOnFife programme of free activities in response to the pandemic it was fantastic to have the 360 tour of DCLG as a resource we could share. While our doors were closed the tour was a way for us to still showcase the award-winning museum and galleries building alongside the historic library.
“We are now looking forward to exploring the potential of 360 tours to help promote future exhibitions. For example, we have a major Jack Vettriano exhibition coming next year at Kirkcaldy Galleries and being able to share a tour would allow visitors, who are coming from far and wide, to get to know the building in advance and check things like accessibility.”
Scotland’s bounce back
360 Virtual Studios Director Michelle Milnes believes well-planned and executed 360 virtual tours like those of her clients can help their sectors and others bounce back quicker and more resiliently than with more familiar marketing tools alone, by promoting online sales when customers can’t visit the premises and offline visits when they can. Used across multiple sectors, they could speed and bolster the recovery of Scotland’s economy as a whole.
“If the third wave brings renewed physical trading restrictions, 360 tours can help trade continue online in the same way 360 tours of homes helped our property marketing parent, Property Studios, keep the residential property market going during the second lockdown,” says Michelle.
“Our clients’ experiences of how 360 tours have helped them survive, recover and create better and more restrictions-resilient business models can be replicated by other businesses and benefit Scotland as a whole.”
360 Tours Guide
360 Virtual Studios has published a free guide to how businesses can best use 360 tours in their marketing on its website at http://bit.ly/360TourGuide