15. Sep 2021

9 tips on how AR/VR can be successful in online furniture retail

The growing importance of AR/VR could become a game changer in online furniture retail. Furniture manufacturers and retailers should prepare for the new possibilities before it’s too late.

A 2019 study by Artec 3D among 1,000 US consumers concluded that one in two customers finds interactive 3D models of products more helpful than images when shopping online. 38.8 percent of survey participants considered the use of AR and VR to be most useful for large furniture and decorative items, followed by clothing (17.6 percent) and household appliances (14.2 percent). A Product Information Management (PIM) solution can be the first step in the right direction. We have compiled the most important advantages that speak for the introduction of a PIM.

The great potential of AR/VR for the interiors sector becomes even clearer when you know why customers are still reluctant to buy furniture and decorative objects online. The answers: 47.6 percent of the study participants want to see the objects in person. 27.7 percent could not tell the quality of the product from photos. And 13.4 percent weren’t sure whether the item would fit into their own home.

So it’s no wonder that online furniture retailers such as Wayfair or Ikea or manufacturers such as Mycs or Tylko have been offering customers the option of placing Billy & Co. in their living rooms via AR for some time now.

In addition to the better customer experience, manufacturers in the high-price segment in particular benefit when customers playfully engage with the brand online. In addition, AR/VR offers the possibility to visualize the different product variants better than was possible in the past.

And even very large furniture that would take up too much space for presentation in the shop – for example in the kitchen area or also with built-in furniture – can now be optimally staged with AR/VR.

The smartphone manufacturer Apple, which is actively working on new AR/VR services for its iPhone, came to the conclusion in internal studies that a customer is 11 times more likely to buy a new piece of furniture online if they first buy it via AR built into your own home. And the online hardware store Wannaby reports that returns drop by a good fifth if customers were able to test the products virtually beforehand.

Better without gadgets. Looks nice, but is a barrier to entry.

But anyone who has ever tried to place a shelf in their own home via AR may have sobered up to realize that the user experience is actually not as positive as many device manufacturers, service providers or the media report about AR/VR. Handling is often cumbersome, the virtual object sticks somewhere in the room and the realistic size of the piece of furniture is still difficult to estimate.

However, all of this can be avoided with good project preparation. We have compiled the nine most important points for successful AR/VR services:

1. Ask your target audience

There is only one way to find out what expectations users have of their own AR/VR services: you have to ask them which functions they want, what information they are missing and whether they are willing to try out such technologies at all. In principle, AR/VR is not a hip gimmick, but should create concrete added value for the customer – for example by improving the product presentation or virtual assembly instructions that improve the service experience.

2. Run through use cases and customer journeys

How does a customer become aware of an AR feature? How does he get into an AR/VR service? How does he use the device? And how will he continue to be supported and motivated to buy after use? Companies need to think about this before they start programming. One way could be, for example, to send the customer the 3D views as an image or video by email with a discount coupon after they have used it, thus binding them to you.

3. Define KPIs

AR/VR tools shouldn’t be introduced because “you have to have them now”, but rather to pursue concrete business goals. This can be improved customer satisfaction, an improved service experience, savings in transport or logistics infrastructure, a reduction in the return rate or cost savings in marketing and sales. Companies should define the KPIs relevant to them – and then measure them. Anyone who can prove the value of their own AR/VR solutions in bare numbers increases internal acceptance for further development enormously.

4. Keep the barriers to entry low

Ideally, AR/VR services can be used with learned devices and applications. Explicit AR headsets are not yet widespread among the general public. The skepticism or fear of trying out new or unfamiliar things is correspondingly high. The acceptance of an AR application will also decrease if users have to download an app specifically for it. The lowest entry hurdle is guaranteed if users can simply use the AR function via their smartphone camera – ideally without additional tools such as DIN A4 paper for calibration.

5. Choose the right technology/platform

Evaluate carefully whether to build your AR applications using proprietary software such as ARKit or ARcore, or whether to build browser-based or cloud-based features. The use of the hardware must be carefully considered, especially at the POS. Here, too, hardware that the customer already knows and uses, such as a smartphone, tablet or touchscreen, is ideally the better option. Check together with all stakeholders such as IT, marketing, sales and POS which existing software systems and interfaces are to be integrated and how the new technology can be integrated into existing processes. Before you reinvent the wheel yourself, simply get advice in your network or from other industry players as to which software and which service provider are recommended. Or research which solution the competition or other industries use that you consider to be good and appropriate.

6. Perform data analysis

Before starting the project, record which internal and external data are necessary for the AR/VR application. Do you decide whether (personal) data should be recorded and what data that is exactly (client telling / user tracking)? In addition, it must be specified where this data is stored and how and for what purpose it is subsequently processed. AR/VR services also place demands on your own product data. It is important to clarify which data is required, which is available and relatively easy to reuse (e.g. 3D data from product development) and who can process this data and how.

7. Adhere to the safety regulations

When introducing AR/VR tools, there are also a number of security-related aspects to consider. These include, for example, data protection according to GDPR (for sound or image recordings and other personal user data such as user logins, etc.), critical points when considering ICT security and requirements for ergonomics or health protection (e.g. when using VR glasses).

8. It’s better to start small than with a big big bang

Start with a simple prototype and gradually expand it instead of getting bogged down in detailed functions right from the start. Technologies are evolving very quickly these days. What is developed today and only launched in six months may already be out of date.

9. Test, test, test!

Test the AR/VR application with real customers, e.g. at the POS, to find out about obstacles to use. Find test users who are willing to regularly test the application and make suggestions for improvement. People with a high level of self-motivation and curiosity who are open to new things are best suited to this. But even the so-called DAUs (stupidest possible users) provide valuable input on how the user-friendliness of the application can be improved.

It is foreseeable that AR and VR will become increasingly important in online retail. Corona and the shutdown associated with the pandemic have opened the eyes of retailers and manufacturers to the fact that new ways have to be found to make products easier to experience outside of the stationary point of sale. In addition, US giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook & Co. are working hard to improve the user experience in virtual worlds. AR/VR will be a game changer, especially for the online furniture trade. If you haven’t had any experience with it yet, you shouldn’t wait too long.


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