Will virtual tours work for you?

Ysabel Caballes
Dec 3, 2019 · 7 min read

The Dilemma

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

Virtual tours are a relatively new technology.

The first year a virtual tour was ever presented to the public was 1994. And they only really started gaining a presence in the last decade, thanks to Google Street View, Matterport, and 360 cameras.

Compared to video, which has been around since the 1870s, virtual tours have only been around for a short blip of time. And as with any promising new technology, it can be hard to tell if it’s actually worth investing in. Will it pan out for its supporters, like film eventually did? Or will it end up in the graveyard of broken hopes and fruitless investments?

The Rewards

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There have been some studies showing that virtual tours are effective at drawing more views (about 87% more), making website visitors stick around more (5 to 10 times longer), and driving more qualified leads (up to 67% more).

And given that they’re so new, the market is still unsaturated. By jumping in now, you’ll get to establish yourself as one of the industry leaders. You’ll get to brand your company as current and innovative, and you’ll become the first business customers go to when they think about virtual tours and interesting places to visit.

As an early adapter, you’ll also have a huge say in how the technology will change going forward. And with your input, virtual tours will become even better for your business with each iteration.

The Risks

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While there have been several promising studies, the technology is still unproven for a lot of industries.

And case studies are all well and good. But even if virtual tours worked for other people, it’s not certain they’ll also work for you.

Virtual tours have never been cheaper or faster to make, but if you’re a small business owner they can still be a hefty investment. You would either have to learn how to make them, or pay someone else to do it for you. And how can you be sure you’ll actually see any returns on that investment after?

And even if you’re operating a large corporation with some money to spare, is it worth putting it towards virtual tours? Or should you prioritize other initiatives first?

The Questions

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So are the rewards worth the risks?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to just pluck an answer from thin air. I recommend asking yourself these specific questions instead.

By answering these 4 questions, you’ll be able to reach a conclusive and data-driven answer on whether virtual tours are worth investing in for you.

Question #1: Do your competitors have virtual tours?

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Take a look at your industry.

Is anyone in it using virtual tours?

If the majority already have it, then you should probably have started making virtual tours yesterday. Neglecting to add them now is just going to make your business look antiquated (because you’re not keeping up with the times) and inconsiderate (because you’re forcing customers to visit instead of letting them access virtual tours at their own convenience).

That’s especially true for companies who belong to the real estate, hospitality, travel, and automotive industries. Virtual tours already have a firm and proven hold there, so there’s no good reason for your business not to have them already.

Maybe you’re still unsure though. Or only a handful of businesses are making use of virtual tours in your industry, and it’s not obvious if it’s actually working.

In that case, here’s the next question.

Question #2: Do virtual tours fit into your overall business strategy?

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As mentioned before, having virtual tours gives you a certain image.

They make your brand look more innovative (because you’re pushing the boundaries of technology), transparent (since virtual tours are all about giving customers the power and vision to navigate through your space), approachable (you’re bringing all the information your customers need to where they are, instead of having them queue up at your door), and environmentally friendly (just think about all the gas people will save because they don’t have to physically visit you, thanks to your virtual tours).

If those values are important for you, then you should definitely consider adding virtual tours to your playbook.

Virtual tours have also been found to appeal to younger generations a lot. According to this Zillow report, 45% of Gen Z and 41% of Millennial buyers found video walkthroughs and 3D tours “extremely important” while they were shopping for their next home. Only 24% of GenXers, 18% of Baby Boomers, and 14% of Silent Generation buyers thought the same.

Of course, your customer demographic might actually be older. Maybe they still prefer keeping things personal and tactile. Maybe they even have problems navigating a digital instead of physical space. In that case, virtual tours might not be a great fit for you.

But if you want to appeal to a younger, more tech-savvy generation?

Virtual tours might just be the way to go.

Question #3: Are your customers interested?

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You’ve now considered your market, your business strategy, and how virtual tours could play into all of that. But if you want to be a little more certain if they’ll actually be effective, it won’t hurt to just ask your customers directly.

Ask them over chat or have your cashier bring up the idea at the counter.

Have your customers experienced a virtual tour before?

Did they like it?

Would they appreciate it if you added virtual tours yourself?

Why or why not?

If they’re interested, what kind of virtual tour would they like to see? Let’s say you’re a restaurant owner. Do they want to see a preview of your restaurant up on your website? Or maybe they want to go through a tour of your entire supply chain while they’re waiting for their orders, to see for themselves that your products are sustainable and fairly sourced?

If they’re not interested, what would they rather see you focus on instead?

Do they genuinely sound interested while replying to you, or does it seem like they’re just going along with the idea to be nice?

Getting a dozen or so responses to these questions should be more than enough to answer your doubts.

But if virtual tours are really risky for you, and you want to be really really sure before you jump in, even 95% or 99% sure, then read further.

Question #4: Do your virtual tours pass your A/B tests?

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If you’re not familiar with A/B testing, it’s essentially a type of experiment you can conduct on your website or store, to see if changing it slightly will get you more of the results you’re looking for.

For example, let’s say you’re in the business of renting out event venues. You’ve heard about virtual tours, and you think adding them to your website will increase your bookings.

But you own several sprawling venues, and making virtual tours for all of them could cost you a lot. And who knows if it’s even worth it?

A/B testing lets you probe the waters first before diving in.

Make just one virtual tour, for that popular venue you have highlighted on your homepage. With the help of a web developer or using an A/B testing service like Google Optimize, create a twin version of your homepage and embed your tour there. Then split your web traffic, so half of your visitors visit your current homepage, while the other half are sent to your test homepage.

After a week or three, analyze your web traffic. Did the version with a virtual tour get you more bookings than the one without? And if yes, is the difference big enough to make the investment worth it?

If you’d like to learn more about A/B testing, like how to avoid common mistakes people make when designing tests and interpreting results, read more here:

The Answer

So was it a yes or a no for you?

Share it in the comments below!

Either way, I hope this article helped you reach the best answer for your business.

Virtual tours may be a new thing, but making a decision to either incorporate them or ignore them doesn’t have to be risky. As with any other technology, they’re a tool. And now you have all the information you need to decide if they’re the proper tool for you.

3D Virtual Tour Techniques

Tricks, tips, best-practices, news and views for building 3D virtual tours from 360 photos.

Ysabel Caballes

Written by

Storyteller. Marketer. Analyst. || Growth Marketing Manager of metareal.com

3D Virtual Tour Techniques

Tricks, tips, best-practices, news and views for building 3D virtual tours from 360 photos.

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