Claire Beale On Advertising: Shop on Oxford Street – without leaving home

With only 25 shopping days left until Christmas, there are few more uncomfortable places to be at the moment than Oxford Street in London. So today's launch of a virtual version of the West End retail mecca couldn't have been timed better.

NearLondon brings Oxford Street to life on the web with a perfect 3D replica of the iconic shopping precinct. It's the latest marketing salvo in the high street's battle against purely online suppliers and a whole new media channel for interactive advertising. The site uses computer gaming technology to place users inside a virtual world where they can walk through the streets and enter stores; the real-life buildings have been scanned in using laser technology and the 3D world has been modelled with techniques used by special-effects designers in Hollywood

The idea is that you can visit stores such as John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Liberty from the comfort of wherever you perch your laptop. No rain, no crowds, no bags to lug home. Though when I say no rain, I mean you won't get wet; the weather in virtual Oxford Street will be modelled on Met Office forecasts each day, so if it's pouring in the real world, it will be online, too.

The pursuit of the authentic West End experience doesn't stop there. Newspaper billboards will carry headlines from that day's news and advertisers will be able to buy virtual poster sites and in-store promotional messages. So the Near concept will also be run as an ad medium, offering advertisers many of the traditional promotional tools that exist out in the real world.

At this point you might be thinking "Second Life". Though probably not. After the hype, who remembers Second Life? There's no doubt that NearLondon has a commercial edge over its predecessors, even though it does not offer the same opportunities for casual virtual sex (not yet, anyway).

For high-street retailers, the Near concept is about trying to secure a greater share of web commerce. Of course all the major players already have their own e-commerce sites. But NearLondon reckons its sophisticated technology and ability to replicate the traditional browsing experience not only within a store but also through an entire virtual shopping centre will drive increased (virtual) footfall and create a richer user experience which will ensure consumers keep coming back for more.

They might be right because as the Near system develops, the idea is to overlay the commercial application with a robust social network that edges closer to the community and social elements of the city centre location. So in addition to shopping, users will be able to watch movies, chat with friends, or hang around virtual street corners with their mate who lives at the other end of the country.

The NearLondon site launches in Beta today and next week shoppers in central London will be handed the application on a disc to upload at home. Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street are already up and running, with Covent Garden and Knightsbridge in the pipeline. And the plan is to expand from London's West End to major cities around the world; so you'll be able to shop Fifth Avenue or Tokyo's Shinjuku from your living room.

Doomsayers worry that if virtual shopping rocket-fuels online buying, it could have a significant impact on the real-life high street.

Some shops could find their in-store sales declining to the extent that they cannot continue to justify prime real-estate rents, while the shops that do survive could become more like sampling centres, offering opportunities to interact with brands before purchasing from the web at home. Our city centre retail environment is already nudging that way with concept stores such as Nike Town and the Apple Store. Starbucks will probably take care of the rest.

Think about that as your avatar's queuing in the virtual rain for the January sales.

Best in Show: McCain (Beattie McGuinness Bungay)

If the idea of oven chips offends you, don't let your children watch the new McCain TV commercial from Beattie McGuinness Bungay. It brings a thoroughly delightful whimsy to the otherwise rather functional job of processing potatoes, and it's gorgeously seductive.

There's more than a token homage here to the fantastic contraptions of Heath Robinson as the potatoes work their way from field to plate, via tickling feathers to make them smile and garlicky gloves that give them a hug. The result is a commercial that manages to entertain and engage even after several viewings.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Financial Accountant / Bookkeeper- Drinks Brand / FMCG

£30000 - £34000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A new and dynamic drinks and FMC...

Application Support Engineer / Graduate Software Support Engineer

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Application Support Engineer / Graduate Soft...

Account Director

£45-50k + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Director / AD with a st...

Digital Account Director

£Competitive + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Account Direct...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style