VERA’S RETREAT GETS PANORAMIC ONLINE

Byline: Brad Barth

NEW YORK — Cosmetics retailer Vera’s Retreat in the Glen has introduced virtual reality technology to its Web site, giving online customers a simulated shopping experience at this exclusive, Bel Air, Calif., beauty store.
Consumers who access the Vera’s Retreat Web page via a portal site are given a virtual tour as they watch a high-definition video image pan 360 degrees around the store’s lobby. By running the cursor over the movie screen, the consumer hits imbedded hot spots that, with a click of the mouse, can transport the viewer to a particular product line. These products then move across the screen in assembly-line fashion, producing a dynamic, moving showcase of merchandise.
ShopGoOnline of Chico, Calif., an electronic marketplace with which Vera’s Retreat is a merchant partner, introduced the virtual reality idea to Vera Brown, owner of Vera’s Retreat. “I thought the concept was wonderful,” said Brown. “We’re just starting and I’d like to build it up to something exciting.”
Vera’s site was made possible by a digital panoramic camera from Panoscan, Van Nuys, Calif. Because it captures lengthy shots in a single digital file, this camera eliminates the need for a time-consuming editing process, called stitching.
Most digital cameras can only shoot 12 to 24 images per file. During postproduction, these images must be stitched together, a process that can take as long as two hours per stitch. Also, the stitches often remain visible in the final product.
The Panoscan camera, however, captures everything in one continuous pan around the room.
The camera also offers far better definition than most digital cameras, not only because no stitching is required, but also because it picks up light contrasts and shadows very well. It’s a camera that “captures the entire scenery in one gigantic film strip image, as opposed to a stitching process which leaves lines in the image,” said Matt Herman, vice president of ShopGoOnline. With this camera, “we’re able to turn around the image in less than an hour. Realistically, that’s all time I can spare to put a product online.”
Vera’s also used the camera to film a client receiving a facial treatment, which online customers can also view. “People love to see this,” said Brown. “[Some] don’t even know what a facial salon looks like.”
ShopGoOnline.com chose Vera’s Retreat to pilot the virtual reality technology because, explained Herman, “the atmosphere of Vera’s presents itself well with VR. You look at her lobby and it speaks to you.” The company has plans to use digital photography and virtual reality technology to enhance at least five to 10 more of its Internet partners’ Web sites, according to Herman.
Brown hopes to continue improving her own site. She said she would like to use e-mail to answer customer inquiries. Vera’s has a separate site at verasretreat.com.

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