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Step into a virtual London

An online version of London’s West End has the potential to create a sizeable community of shoppers.

NearLondon is an interactive, virtual look at London’s West End covering Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Regent Street, Bond Street and Piccadilly Circus.

The website can be accessed by downloading the required software either from disk or from the NearLondon website – find details at www.nearglobal.com. Users can then virtually walk down Oxford Street (and surrounding areas) and view the stores on either side. Users are able to see virtual shop window displays and by clicking on a window of interest can view more details of that particular retailer. From here, users can link directly to the retailer’s transactional website.

All stores within the area are covered by NearLondon but retailers are given the opportunity to upgrade their presence on the site. An upgrade can include changing the virtual window display each month and adding more product information and images onto the details page.

So far between 30 and 40 retailers have signed up to upgraded packages on NearLondon, including Karen Millen, Marks & Spencer, Liberty, American Apparel and John Lewis. M&S says of its decision: “Smart retailers know that maximising both their online and store offerings helps to drive business and increases footfall. NearLondon will help our customers both here in the UK and internationally to take a virtual tour of our offer before they visit.”

NearLondon’s soft launch will take place in November, when it will invite members of its Facebook group to trial the site. These members will then be offered 10 invites to share with friends. Facebook is a big part of the NearLondon strategy as users will be able to share their virtual journey around the West End with their other Facebook friends. By logging into NearLondon with their Facebook details, users will be able to directly share downloads of store windows, retailer details and individual product information with each other.

Founder Alex Wrottesley believes NearLondon will appeal to a range of people and the target for the next six months is to reach a community of between 25,000 and 50,000 users.

While it is doubtful that NearLondon will have any impact on the footfall of shoppers to the West End in the run-up to Christmas, the low cost and a potentially high return of web traffic make it an interesting proposition for the area’s retailers.

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