Big breakthroughs in visual commerce are making furniture sellers rethink their customer strategy, with 3D and augmented reality (AR) technologies leading the long overdue change
Find a tape. Measure the space. Trek from showroom to showroom. Spend hours debating the right shape and shade. Throw in dollops of guesswork. And bring home a piece of furniture only to find out it doesn’t quite fit the décor, gel with the mood or match the occasion. For the longest time, this is how the world has shopped for furniture. Furniture brands and store owners, with limited ability to change the model, were forced to continue on the same track, making the industry one of the slowest categories to capitalize on new retail trends and technologies.
Online commerce is a glaring example. The furniture sector’s cagey approach to digital technologies – and in particular to 3D and AR – can be attributed to several factors, such as the perceived cost of hardware and software, low levels of tech literacy and training, and lack of clarity on use cases and benefits. Research by Made Smarter bears this out: 8 out of 10 manufacturers acknowledge that skill and knowledge gaps are adversely impacting the speed and scope of their tech initiatives.
However, the impact of the likes of Amazon and Uber on consumer expectations and buying habits means business and revenue leaders have been forced to revise their rusty playbooks. After all, no furniture company can ignore the fact that over 80% of the average customer’s buying process today takes place at home on a smartphone. Or that more than 2.3 billion people will be making at least one purchase from an online retailer in 2022.
In a competitive market, leading names seeking an advantage have begun to invest in technology. For those who have taken the plunge, the spoils have been rich.
Swedish furniture giant Ikea reported an increase of over 50% in engagement and conversion rates with their AR-powered Ikea Place app, while US furniture leader Home Depot reported that customers using their AR tool converted at a rate up to three times higher than those who did not. Meanwhile, online retail behemoth Macy’s has reduced returns by 2% (a significant number given return rates in the furniture sector are between 5 and 10%), driving significant cost savings. Lastly, findings from Interactions Consumer Experience Marketing – which indicate that furniture is the most popular genre to shop for with AR (clocking at 60%, followed by clothing at 55% and groceries at 39%) – should remove any uncertainty furniture manufacturers and marketers may have about which way their next go-to-market strategy should point.
Over 80% of the average customer’s buying process today takes place at home on a smartphone
The unique advantage of 3D and AR technologies is that they don’t do away with the real world in the way that, for example, virtual reality does. Instead, 3D and AR enhance the real world with digital visualizations and information, affording curious buyers the best of not just one, but two worlds.
Furniture shopping has traditionally relied on tangibility. Manufacturers wondering if the same experience can be replicated via a digital device have little to worry about. If anything, disruptive companies like Enhance have not only raised the bar of convention, but also managed to best the traditional store experience with innovative, user-first features. In a nutshell, they allow a new generation of buyers to…
The AR transformation arc in any sector – furniture, décor and interiors included – begins with creating 3D versions of the manufacturer’s original blueprints and design assets. This establishes a spectacular new visual framework for a range of 3D and AR applications to utilize. One of them is the ability to reconfigure form, which lets viewers twirl, spin and rotate items to experience their favorite pieces of furniture from never-before seen angles and perspectives.
Inside the universe of AR, users can alter the color, style, fabric and several other specifications of their chosen furniture item – using the environment like an artist’s canvas to unleash their creativity, experiment with different combinations and build their dream look. This is the fun part of AR, and not surprisingly, a firm favorite with 77% of shoppers.
The fear of ending up with a nasty surprise is a common psychological deterrent when it comes to online furniture buying. 3D and AR take this challenge head on and use innovation to allow customers to make better-informed buying decisions with greater confidence. Using AR, potential buyers can place digital versions of furniture models within real environments and familiar settings, assessing fit and compatibility instantly and to a high degree of accuracy. In many ways, it is the furniture sector’s very own version of a test drive, and goes a long way to addressing the pain of returns.
The latest breakthroughs in 3D and AR technology bring rich pickings for the seller and supplier side too – from creating memorable customer experiences, to gaining real-time consumer insights (which help with agile product refinement), to amping up profitability significantly.
The inexorable rise of social commerce – slated to grow from $492 billion globally to $1.2 trillion by 2025, according to Accenture – is squarely hinged around the twin concepts of ‘shoppability’ and visual commerce. Each is an outcome of multiple interconnected parameters such as ease of use, device compatibility and psycho-social metrics such as shareability and bragworthiness. Combining an intuitive user interface with the ability to generate wow moments and smart social features, 3D and AR ticks each box in style.
For the furniture ecosystem encompassing retailers, manufacturers, marketers, architects, interior designers and more, ‘see commerce’ isn’t a concept taken from the pages of a sci-fi novel. Not anymore. In fact, when it comes to that avant-garde workstation, that portable closet or that elegant coffee table (and everything else in between), it’s table stakes.