Why furniture retailers need to develop for mobile AR

2018 is set to be huge year for Augmented Reality (AR) technology, particularly if your business involves selling furniture online. For some industry sectors, commercially viable mobile AR use cases have been hard to come by, but online retail is one area that’s ripe for disruption within the next two to three years. Excitement around mobile AR is now reaching fever pitch. Late last year Apple and Google both released their own mobile AR development platforms, ARKit and ARCore, enabling brands to develop exciting new applications for consumers that provide a deeper level of engagement and the opportunity to generate new streams of revenue. We recently covered the ROI of mobile AR and the top AR trends for 2018, today we’re exploring why furniture retailers should be developing mobile AR apps in 2018.

If you’re a furniture retailer, the time to start thinking about mobile AR and how it impacts your business operations is now. As a retailer, in order to stay ahead of the competitive curve, you need to constantly identify new ways to engage existing and potential sales prospects. Virtual Reality (VR) has already been deployed in certain retail contexts to provide ‘virtual dressing rooms’ and pretty soon your customers demand an experience that’s driven by mobile AR. Mobile AR possesses the ability to completely redefine the way in which consumers browse and purchase furniture online.

The reason mobile AR has the potential to redefine the online retail experience is simple: hundreds of millions of existing potential buyers already have ARKit and ARCore enabled devices in their pockets. It’s estimated that by the end of 2018, both ARKit and ARCore will be compatible with nearly a billion existing smartphones and tablets. Companies such as IKEA and Wayfair have already stated that by delivering mobile AR experiences to their potential customers, they’re able to generate new revenue streams and provide a deeper level of consumer engagement that can dramatically accelerate the buyers journey from first point of contact to point of sale.

If you’re a marketing manager involved in retailing furniture, the numbers regarding mobile AR are impressive. Recent research conducted by Centric Digital in an ‘AR in retail study’ on US consumers suggested that furniture is the number one product people want to shop for using mobile AR (60%). Some of the other products include clothing (55%), groceries (39%), shoes (35%) and jewellery (25%). Whilst it’s easy to argue that IKEA and Wayfair are innovators in the mobile AR space when it comes to furniture retail, the reality is that mobile AR will alter the way your customers browse and buy furniture online. The fact is, shopping for furniture using mobile AR is already something that consumers are familiar with.

How do Augmented Reality apps work?
This is a good question and worth exploring in more detail. Many businesses still dont understand what AR is and why it’s important from a commercial perspective. Mobile AR technology provides a means for brands and businesses to overlay virtual information and 3D objects on top of a real-world environment using an ARKit/ARCore compatible smartphone or tablet. There are fundamentally, from a technical perspective, two types of mobile AR apps:

– Marker based
– Location based

Marker based mobile AR apps work through image recognition technology, whereby virtual information or a 3D model can be triggered when the mobile device recognises the marker. In the same way that mobile devices can be used in conjunction with a QR code to trigger virtual information and images, marker-based AR apps can be developed to recognise a brand logo or icon and present specific types of content. Location based mobile AR apps are different in that they rely on GPS data to locate specific points of interest. The process for on-boarding customers into a mobile AR experience is relatively straightforward:

– Download a mobile AR app via ARKit or ARCore using an existing iOS/Android device
– Obtain the marker image
– Place the marker in a specified environment
– Direct the device camera towards to marker and trigger an AR experience

At present, these types of applications have been deployed for retail and furniture sales, as well as for games, education and entertainment. As the market for mobile AR continues to develop, the technology is also finding a home for itself in more industrial settings such as construction, engineering and oil and gas. The technology works well when deployed in collaboration with IoT sensors and apps to display specific values (temperature, pressure, component information) via an AR interface.

Why is Augmented Reality technology important for retailers?
If you’re a furniture retailer thinking about deploying an AR initiative in 2018, there are a number of benefits associated with mobile AR apps:
– You can create a highly personalised shopping experience
– Decrease reliance on traditional offline marketing channels
– Minimise sales returns by enabling consumers to visualise furniture in context
– Decrease sales returns by replicating how furniture will look in situ
– Provide an entertaining and immersive experience for new and existing customers
– Engage and retain customers thus increasing LTV
– Provide a competitive differentiator

On the final point, it’s worth noting that the likelihood is that in the next three to five years, ALL furniture retailers will require the development of an AR experience that works across both ARKit and ARCore. Pretty soon your customers don’t just expect to be able to use an AR app to browse and buy furniture via mobile, they’ll actively demand one. As such, developing a mobile AR initiative now can be a great way to leapfrog the competition and provide an experience that delights consumers and boosts sales.

There are numerous end-user benefits when it comes to developing a retail centric mobile AR experience. One obvious benefit is the fact that shoppers using mobile AR dont need to visit a physical retail outlet in order to ascertain how furniture will appear in their own home. The beauty of mobile AR for furniture retailers is that it enables consumers to browse and buy remotely. Buying decisions can be made and accelerated via the comfort of the consumer’s home. In fact, they don’t even need to be standing up. It’s simple to position, rotate and remove a plethora of different types of furniture, from beds and bookstands to tables and sofas, the possibilities are endless. As long as you have a 3D model of the furniture item, you can now find a way via mobile AR to inject the product directly into the consumers home environment. This will help over time to decrease the reliance on traditional physical retail outlets which in turn helps to decrease associated costs.

The whole concept of ‘try before you buy’ is absolutely crucial for furniture retailers. If an item of furniture doesn’t fit, or doesn’t look good upon arrival, the consumer is liable to return it directly to the retailer. Mobile AR provides a compelling way for consumers to visualise exactly how furniture will appear in context according to specific dimensions and measurements. By enabling consumers to visualise how furniture will look in the home environment, retailers can minimise returns. This is a risk managed way of minimising potential returns and the associated costs of logistics. Developing a mobile AR app is also a great way to engage a younger audience. Again, consumers in the future wont simply expect a mobile AR experience, they’ll demand one.

Best examples of AR apps for furniture retailers

1.) IKEA Place
Arguably the undisputed champion of all the AR based furniture apps, IKEA has blazed a trail when it comes to innovation in the market. Rolled out across ARKit in late 2017, the IKEA PLace app is a brilliantly executed example of how a mobile AR app for retailers should look, feel and perform. What’s more, early KPI’s suggest that the application itself is not only helping IKEA to sell more furniture, it’s also providing a highly immersive experience for potential consumers who engage with the app because it’s enjoyable and enables them to trial different layouts around the home without commiting to a purchase.

2.) Wayfair
Wayfair is a US based furniture retailer. The company began working on their mobile AR experience in 2016 before ARKit and ARCore even existed. It’s worth noting, especially if you’re thinking about developing a mobile AR retail experience, that designing mobile AR apps prior to the launch of ARKit and ARCore was a completely different ball-game. It’s now easier than ever before to develop seamless mobile AR experiences for hundreds of millions of existing iOS and Android enabled devices. Similar to the IKEA app, Wayfair enables consumers to browse the companies catalogue of items and place lifelike 3D furniture models to scale within the home environment. Users can position and rotate multiple furniture items within the same scene and progress to buy if they’re satisfied with the results.

How to develop a mobile AR app for retail
A recent study discovered that some 60% of US mobile users have already experimented with AR apps for shopping. It’s clear to see that mobile AR is now starting to have a seismic impact on consumer buyer behaviour and shopping habits. The key to getting ahead of the competition is to start thinking about how to approach mobile AR now.

If you’re a furniture retailer thinking about developing a mobile AR experience in 2018, we’d love to hear from you and there are a bunch of ways to get started. If you’re in the very earliest stages of planning, it helps to refine your plan with an expert and crystallise your thinking around development. We’ve created this mobile AR readiness tool to help get you started. If you;re reasonably confident you have an idea of what you want to achieve, running an innovation workshop can be a great way of exploring new mobile AR ideas and and sanity checking the commercial and technical viability of your use case. Innovation workshops are great for developing multiple commercially focused use cases and the aim of the session is to pinpoint the highest priority use case according to your goals. Once you have a prioritised use case that’s commercially and technically feasible, the next stage would be to start thinking about a prototype and full production of your app. If you want to chat with a mobile AR expert, contact us today to start the conversation.