Thanks to Google, You Can Now Take a VR Tour of New York’s Holiday Window Displays

Retailers like Macy's and Bloomingdale's are participating

Headshot of Marty Swant

Can't make it to New York to walk along Fifth Avenue to experience the iconic holiday window displays? Google is helping wannabe visitors check them out in virtual reality.

The company has partnered with more than a dozen major retailers to create Window Wonderland, a VR experience that lets anyone explore the lights and sounds of the season using Google Cardboard or Google's own headset, Google View. The tour—which debuts today—lets viewers zoom in on displays and even listen to audio guides from stores' creative directors as they talk about the process of creating the magic seen by more than 5 million visitors every year.

To create the experience, Google's Art, Copy & Code projects team took hundreds of high-resolution photos at 18 retailers like Burberry, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue and stitched them together to create a "life-like panorama." The displays—which have been a city staple for nearly 150 years—let viewers see Lord & Taylor's Enchanted Forest, see into Santa's command center at Macy's or see the almost 10-foot-tall jackalope at Bergdorf Goodman.

"With all of the artistry and time that goes into creating these holiday windows, we want to open them up to the whole world," Aman Govil, head of the Art, Copy & Code projects team, wrote in a blog post.

Of course, along with the VR experience, Google's microsite also has a link to a digital shopping window, which features buyable products from many of the brands featured in the walking tour. And while the VR tour doesn't cost a thing, the items featured online are far from free.

Serena Potter, group vice president of digital media strategy for Macy's, said the Christmas windows are always a high point of the holiday season. Now, the VR tour helps to capture the "wonder and whimsy" of the windows in a more accessible way.

"This partnership captures a unique retail tradition," she said. "And with technology, many more, who are not able to experience their beauty first-hand, are able to collectively experience this New York holiday tradition online."

Google, which debuted Google View in September, has been boosting its virtual reality capabilities over the past few months as it touts the content capabilities of the medium. (And while Google Cardboard is compatible with both Apple and Android smartphones, View only works with Google's new Pixel phone.)

Today, Google debuted a video on YouTube that offers a preview of the Window Wonderland:

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.