How Wayfair Is Preparing for a VR Ecommerce Future

It would be unfair, perhaps, to say that the jury’s still out on virtual reality (VR). The fact is that the technology’s expensive, and that alone is most likely the main obstacle to widespread consumer adoption. But, as with all things, when prices start to come down, VR gadgetry will no doubt enjoy a lift in popularity, and may eventually become as mainstream as the smartphone.

Retailers, of course, are watching the VR space with a keen eye. When will the moment come that they will simply have no choice but to add a virtual reality strategy to their growing list of in-store, digital, mobile and omnichannel offerings? A study, published in Business Insider, reveals that for the time being at least, there are mixed reviews about the impact VR will have on commerce.

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Wayfair Wants to Be Prepared for VR Commerce

Some retailers, however, are hedging their bets that VR is simply bound to take off, and are experimenting with the technology now before it becomes mainstream.

One such pioneer is home furnishings ecommerce company Wayfair. Standing at No. 24 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, the retailer last year opened an innovation lab – Wayfair Next – to help it develop and refine 3-D technology, so that when the likes of VR do eventually become mainstream, Wayfair is ready.

“We feel like the tools in that space have gotten to a tipping point where they’ve become easier to use,” Wayfair co-founder Steve Conine says. “We want to be at the front of the pack running toward this technology rather than playing catch-up two years from now.”

Patio Playground

One of the first experiments to come out of the lab is a VR app called Patio Playground for the Oculus Rift 3-D gaming headset. Launched in August last year, it is one of only seven apps in the Oculus Rift Experience app store that is not gaming-focussed.

Patio Playground allows users to immerse themselves in a computer-generated environment, which consists of a virtual reality patio space. Wearing the Oculus Rift, consumers can then arrange patio furniture in the virtual setting, and choose between 85 products that can be placed (up to 15 at a time) in the scene. Users can then view the furniture from different angles and see how they look in different lights at different times of day. Moving within a three-foot area, they can take a walk around each piece of furniture, and even bend down to take a closer look at the bottom of it.

“Patio Playground provides users with a new way to find design inspiration,” says Conine. “Virtual reality is a truly transformative discovery platform, and we are excited to harness this technology as we continue to deliver an exceptional shopping experience.”

There’s a hand controller that enables users to switch out the products, or, as a bit of fun, they can choose to have a virtual drone fly in and magically beam the furniture down into place.

Check out the video to see it in action.


Wayfair has also launched a second VR app for Google Inc.’s virtual reality platform Daydream. The app, called IdeaSpace, is similar to Patio Playground, only that the virtual space created is not limited to patios. Instead, users are able to travel around 10 rooms – including kitchens and living rooms – and view 75 of Wayfair’s products in the virtual scenes.

Consumers can access all product details within the app – such as price, manufacturer information and customer reviews – and can even add items to their shopping carts (something that Patio Playground doesn’t yet offer). The aim is to inspire consumers by allowing them to see for themselves how Wayfair products look together in a real setting. As Shrenik Sadalgi, engineering lead at Wayfair Next, explains: “Think of places you go for inspiration, like Pinterest or a blog. You are looking at beautiful pictures in that beautiful world. This is putting you into that world. You are in that room, and you can look around and explore.”

Here’s a short video so you can see how IdeaSpace looks and feels:

View in Room

And there’s more. Not content with exploring just virtual reality, in December Wayfair also released a new augmented reality (AR) feature – View in a Room – for users of Wayfair’s mobile app on iPhone and Android devices. Rather than requiring the user to don a headset, the AR application simply allows users to point their phone’s camera at any space, and 2-D product images are superimposed onto the scene, meaning that shoppers can see how various furniture and décor will look in their homes before they buy.

“As we pioneer new emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, we are simultaneously focused on bringing new solutions to market that will immediately benefit all of our customers,” said Conine in a press release. “The new View in Room feature solves a common customer pain point by making it possible for shoppers to preview furniture and décor in their home before placing an order,”

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Consumers can visualize the 6 million Wayfair products in their homes using the feature. “From lighting and throw pillows to sofas and chairs – and even holiday décor – the View in Room feature makes shopping for the home fun, interactive and social,” continued Conine. “Our newest visualization feature is broadly available to our rapidly growing customer base and offers shoppers the added confidence that they’re making the right furniture and décor selections for their homes.”

Preparing for a VR Future

As the retailer continues to pioneer emerging technologies such as VR, Wayfair is banking on greater adoption in the mainstream. Since the View in Room feature only requires users to own a smartphone, the augmented reality offering is already providing a ready-made solution that will bring a new experience for Wayfair’s customers that they can immediately benefit from. When it comes to VR commerce, however, Conine understands that demand isn’t quite there yet, but Wayfair will most certainly be prepared when it is. The last word goes to him.

“Our demographic will buy Oculus headsets for their kids to play Minecraft. Three years from now, more of our shoppers will have these devices in their homes, and we can provide the opportunity for them to visualize our products in their homes.”

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