Amazon launches a virtual tours and experience platform, Amazon Explore

Amazon today is launching a new service called Amazon Explore that allows customers to book live, virtual experiences led by local experts. The experiences may be focused on creativity, learning DIY skills, taking virtual tours of far-off places or cultural landmarks or, in some cases, shopping local boutiques from around the world.

For example, you could book a virtual wine tasting experience in Argentina, learn how to make smoked fish tacos in Mexico, take a virtual tour of Kyoto’s Nanzenji Temple, tour a 500-year-old mansion in Peru, learn about coffee creation in Costa Rica, learn how to make sushi from a home kitchen in Tokyo and more.

Image Credits: Amazon, screenshot via TechCrunch

Though the tours and experiences offer the ability to virtually travel the globe, the ability to sign up for an Amazon Explore session is currently offered on an invite-only basis for customers in the U.S. only.

The virtual experiences themselves will be guided by local experts who are trained and supported by Amazon, the company says. While there are other ways to virtually tour the world — like watching YouTube videos or perhaps taking guided tours via Google Earth — the Amazon Explore experience is different because it’s a one-on-one session between the host and the viewer, enabled by one-way video and two-way audio for real-time communication. This is meant to give the viewer more of the feeling of really “being there,” compared with experiences where you more passively watch the video on the screen.

Image Credits: Amazon, screenshot via TechCrunch

The sessions themselves range 30 to 60 minutes in length and can be canceled or rescheduled with up to 24 hours’ notice. When it’s time to begin your tour, you’ll just sign into your Amazon account online, then click in to Your Session page from the “Your Orders” section to get started.

The sessions will require you have a laptop or desktop, as they’re not mobile-friendly at this time. You’ll also need to have a Chrome, Edge or Safari web browser, functional microphone (the built-in one is fine) and a set of headphones or speakers, as well as an internet connection of 5 mbps or higher.

During the session, you can ask questions or further direct the experience by asking the host to spend more time on one aspect of the experience or skipping another. You can also use the camera icon at the bottom of the live stream to take photos.

Image Credits: Amazon, screenshot via TechCrunch

Some, but not all, experiences are also shopping-enabled. In these cases, customers are able to visit local stores and markets, browse items and ask questions of the shop owner as if they were there in person. They can then choose to make a purchase and receive the items they bought as if they had been shopping on directly. When they make a purchase, the payments are handled within Amazon’s secure payment system using the payment method associated with the customer’s account. It then will reimburse the host for the item purchased, accordingly.

In these shopping-enabled experiences, Amazon is somewhat tapping into the live-stream shopping trend, but instead of having an influencer talk about and demo a product — as is often the case on Amazon Live, for example — you can actually ask the shop owner questions or have them zoom into the product or turn it over and around for a better look.

Image Credits: Amazon, screenshot via TechCrunch

Though Amazon has built live-streaming tools for its Live platform, the company says the Amazon Explore experience uses unique technology.

Amazon says the new platform enables more opportunities for small business owners looking to generate additional income, including shop owners, local guides, chefs, stylists, artists and artisans, for example. Many of these businesses have been impacted by the pandemic, of course, which may prompt their participation.

Pricing for the sessions is variable. At launch, there’s a virtual styling session being offered for just $10, for example. Meanwhile, a virtual tour of NYC’s Central Park is going for $150. Amazon says the hosts set their own prices and hours, without having to abide by any set minimum or maximum price. However, the company declined to detail any revenue-sharing agreements.

At launch, many of the experiences on the site offered are being offered by local tour operators, though any business that has a tour idea is invited to apply. Others who could host experiences include historians, artists, musicians, master craftsmen, chefs, personal shoppers or anyone with a skill or adventure to share, says Amazon.

There are currently 86 total experiences available across 16 countries, with the plan to grow the selection in time.

The feature is now being offered in public beta to users in the U.S. on an invite-only basis.