MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google Business Photos’ new 360-degree virtual tour now allows shoppers to come in off the site’s Street View feature and take a virtual step into a dealership’s showroom or service bay. The relatively new feature pops up during a user’s search for a local dealership.

Lindsay Schultz, head of industry for automotive dealerships at Google, told F&I and Showroom that the virtual tour is one Google+ tool dealers can take advantage of. “The goal is for the whole Google+ experience to really be a virtual storefront,” she said. “So if we can lend some of that experience through the virtual showroom experience, that’s just getting the consumer that much closer to bridging the online and offline worlds.”

Anthony Caccamo, a Google-trusted photographer based in New York City, and his wife Orsi, operate Black Paw Photo. They have spent the past year creating 18 virtual tours for auto dealers in the Northeast, and were part of the original 35 photographers across the country selected by Google in December 2011 to pilot the Google Business Photos virtual tours. They also have been providing this service to businesses like restaurants, hotels, gold buyers and fitness clubs, among other industries.

<p>Englewood Cliffs Cadillac, Courtesy of Black Paw Photo</p>

If a dealer wants to add the virtual tour to his or her Google presence, the Caccamos (or other Google-trusted photographer, depending on region) will set up an appointment and come out to photograph the store, which typically takes about one to three hours.

“We have a good time,” says Caccamo, whose brother worked at a car dealership for 15 years. “I’m familiar with car dealers. I know how they work. It’s comfortable. We feel like we can create really nice tours for the dealers.”

The Caccamos now share a network with photographers across the country, and Google has others equipped to create a virtual tour for dealerships. Dealers interested in taking advantage of the service, Caccamo said, will pay a one-time fee of between $700 and $2,000. Caccamo himself posts the virtual tour to each dealer’s Google+ page, but customers can then embed the tour on their dealer websites, as well as other still images taken for the business. 

While the 360-degree technology appears similar to Google’s Street View, Caccamo said the technology for the 35-mm camera’s specialized lens is different. “It’s still images stitched together by ‘magical’ software; it’s not video,” he said, noting that any further explanation of the camera would breach his nondisclosure agreement with Google.<p>Englewood Cliffs Cadillac, Courtesy of Black Paw Photo</p>

Google’s Schultz encourages dealers to also be present on their Google+ page with images, Zagat ratings, reviews and hours of operation. “It’s really about that virtual showroom experience as a whole and letting a potential window shopper see what your store is all about and understand that by reading testimonials and looking at that holistic experience.”

— Stephanie Forshee