Retail theatre has been evolving since the first shop opened its door to the public.

Retail theatre has been evolving since the first shop opened its door to the public. There was a near riot in Oxford Street when Gordon Selfridge put Louis Blériot’s plane (the first to fly across the English Channel) in the window of his new department store and customers flocked to see the spectacle.

Mary Portas left Topshop to create high drama in the windows of Harvey Nichols and we all look to New York for inspiration from the likes of Barneys and Bloomingdale’s and the spectacular displays they offer.

Nike Town took the in-store experience to another level when it opened in New York, but it is Apple that has probably taken the prize for the best hands-on, interactive and engaging retail experience.

Apple opened its first store in 2001 and it’s hard to believe that Regent Street opened in 2004. That was seven years ago and we have still not seen anything quite like it except for the Louis Vuitton store on Bond Street, which is, by all accounts, the most expensive shopfit in the world, with art that is usually seen at the best contemporary galleries.

However, the store is for a very small percentage of high net-worth individuals so does it count? Is the theatre not there perhaps because retailers have been putting their money into the internet and think that customers really like to shop online from the comfort of their home?

So, fast forward to February 2011 and check out the launch of the new Google Art Project. Unveiled at Tate Britain, it gives you the chance to take a virtual 360-degree tour of galleries in 17 major museums across the world. There’s no queue, no crowds or the expense and hassle of getting there.

The museums include Tate Britain, the Met, MoMa and Frick in New York and the Uffizi in Florence. I am sure that more will join this incredible project which, at the moment, allows access to 385 rooms and about 1,000 artworks.

Nicholas Serota from Tate said: “This is a second-generation view of the way museums will use the internet. 10 years ago museums were obsessed with getting thousands of objects on the screen; now we’re interested in getting depth of understanding of the works.”

Google is using technology - like Google Earth - 1,000 times more powerful than a digital camera. Then you get to ‘walk’ around the galleries in 3D as though you are in the room.

Could this site be the inspiration for retailers’ next big thing? And could this be translated into stores? Perhaps we will soon expect to walk virtually through stores from aisle to aisle or room to room and get a 360-degree view of the store, looking at merchandise up close and in real detail.

Will we be able to zoom in and read the ingredients on a tin? More than that, customers could get the in-store theatre experience that will make bricks-and-mortar retailers have to be innovative about store layout, shopfit and visual merchandising.

My prediction is that in the next 18 months someone is going to be the first to do it and will finally take the baton from Apple Store.

Moira Benigson managing partner, THE MBS group