Wayfair Adds Augmented/Virtual Reality to Help Find the Best Furniture
It's fair to assume most people weren't aware of augmented reality until a certain mobile game featuring collectible Japanese monsters became a massive hit a few years ago (Pokemon Go, in case you missed it).
Since then, augmented reality has transformed from a simple novelty - such as in mobile games, and the ubiquitous filters favored by the selfie lovers of Instagram and Snapchat - to a steadfast technology finding its way into industries all around the globe. From smart glasses that can help field service engineers overlay schematics onto real machines to assist with repairs to smart shelves which can help with restocking and merchandising - augmented reality is everywhere.
Now, Wayfair is using the technology to help its customers choose new furniture products for their homes.
In early versions, Wayfair's augmented reality app allowed customers to use their smartphones to superimpose furniture products over the real-life environments in which they would eventually be placed.
One of the biggest headaches with buying furniture is trying to imagine what it would look like at home. Showrooms help, but, assuming the customer's home isn't furnished entirely with Wayfair products and arranged in the exact same configuration as they are in the store, it still doesn't give an accurate impression.
The augmented reality technology in the app helps to solve this issue.
"When you think of the PC or the phone in the old days, you started using it as a tool, and this is the next tool," said Head of Next Gen Experiences at Wayfair, Shrenik Sadalgi. "This platform lends itself to problems in understanding your physical space. You can use it to make your space better."
However, while the augmented reality features of the app are impressive and helpful, Wayfair has been working hard to develop the technology further and make it even more useful to customers.
Wayfair has partnered with virtual reality technology provider Magic Leap. The Boston-based tech pioneers have developed a new app named Wayfair Spaces, which is designed to work in partnership with their own virtual reality headset. The technology works in much the same way as the original augmented reality concept, but with a few notable differences.
First of all, the move from pure augmented reality to a mixed augmented/virtual reality format makes the experience even more immersive. Now, instead of simply superimposing the furniture over the environment, the technology can virtually fix the furniture in place. This allows the customer to walk around the product and view it from all angles as if it was really there. With a pure augmented reality format, the product always faces the same way and will turn with the user.
"The result is that you can see this dining room set at scale, and you can walk around it, see it from different angles, observe how it would look and fit in your space," said Director of Wayfair Next - the company's innovation hub - Mike Festa. "When a product has a nice, warm, inspirational setting and it looks like it was part of a photograph versus just being a product on a white background, that really has more of an emotional connection. It makes it easier for a customer to understand what the product would look like in context and give them an inspiration for how their own space could look."
The mixed reality Wayfair Spaces app helps to take a lot of the guesswork out of furniture buying and gives consumers the confidence they need to make better purchasing decisions.
Interior design is entirely subjective, and the decision to purchase a new piece of furniture swings not just on the specifications of the product itself, but also how it fits within the home in terms of dimension, aesthetics, function, and the tastes of the occupants.
Wayfair has therefore developed its mixed reality app not just as another platform for product visualization, but as a new furniture purchasing solution to be used as a productivity tool, helping turn users into interior designers. By empowering consumers in this way, Wayfair hopes to drive more sales and boost the bottom line of its business.
"Our team looks at emerging technology and thinks about how that can apply to benefit our customers today and especially tomorrow," concludes Festa.
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