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Furniture shoppers must overcome a big hurdle during the path to purchase — determining whether a couch, chair or bed will fit into their available space and how it will look once the deliverymen take away the boxes.

But that challenge is gone for consumers browsing Wayfair’s furniture selection thanks to a new 3D augmented reality feature that lets shoppers see potential furniture and décor in their homes before they buy. The “View in Room 3D” provides shoppers with a way to easily visualize how a product will look in their home as the 3D renderings are accurately sized to true dimensions.

But while the 3D app feature is new for Wayfair consumers, augmented reality is not new for Wayfair. The furniture app is just the latest AR endeavor for Wayfair Next, the retailer’s in-house research and development team devoted to mixed reality and 3D scanning.

AR a familiar technology for Wayfair

“We’ve been a tech company since day one, having been founded by two engineers and with more than 1,000 engineers and data scientists today,” said Mike Festa, director of Wayfair Next, in an email interview with Retail Customer Experience.”We want to create the best possible shopping experience for our customers, and with AR, we’re solving a common pain point our customers face when shopping for home furnishings — how will this item look and fit in my space?”

Festa brought AR to life at Wayfair via a company hack-a-thon event a few years ago. His Wayfair Next team includes about 10 engineers focused on advanced product visualization with AR/VR, 3D scanning for digitizing furniture, sensors for damage detection, and investigating use cases for cutting edge technology.

Developing “View in Room 3D” was a collaborative effort among many internal teams and dozens of team members including apps engineering, product media engineering and search technology engineering. All played a big role in launching the feature, said Festa.

“View in Room 3D” was initially compatible with ARCore, Google’s version of ARKit for Android. Wayfair released a 3D View in Room experience for Google Tango more than a year ago, in June 2016, and launched on the first consumer Tango enabled phone, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, in November 2016.

After Apple announced the availability of ARKit, in June of 2017, the Wayfair Next team decided to build and launch the feature in time for it to be live on the first day that iOS 11 was available, September 21, 2017.

“We’ve designed our experience to be platform agnostic, using the Unity game engine. Our 3D models are optimized for the web and mobile devices so that they look great and perform well,” said Festa.

The retail AR movement

Wayfair’s 3D feature reflects the latest AR effort in the retail industry aimed at enhancing the customer experience. This October luxury fashion retailer Burberry infused AR into its smartphone app to gain a greater share of “digitally influenced” purchases. In September, MasterCard and Swarovski launched a virtual reality shopping app for the Atelier Swarovski home décor line. The app immerses consumers in a tastefully decorated home where they can browse and purchase the pieces with Masterpass, Mastercard’s digital payment service.

Just a year ago, as Retail Customer Experience reported, Ashley Furniture was building a custom augmented reality app and crafting an in-store virtual reality experience. Hourglass Cosmetics recently created a hologram and artificial reality option for its Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick product launch. Ikea is reportedly developing an AR shopping app with Apple’s help focused on helping customers get a good look at how furniture will fit into their homes before ordering and building the furniture.

Few retailers, however, were immersed in AR as early as two years ago like Wayfair was, Festa noted, and AR’s fast adoption illustrates how valuable the technology and 3D modeling are proving to be in boosting the customer experience.

“Traditionally, AR has been big in gaming, but the retail use case is a great real-world application that illustrates how AR can impact people’s everyday lives. We’re pioneering that experience,” he said.

The quest, explained Festa, is to create an exceptional shopping experience and Wayfair recognizes that shopping for the home is not just a transactional experience.

“Customers want to be inspired, get creative and find not only exactly what they were looking for, but also items that they never knew they wanted that spark their imagination in the moment,” he said.

As Wayfair’s 3D image library grows and its augmented reality features become widely available, more customers will be able to create rich, malleable virtual layouts to plan the look of their actual home by seeing items in their rooms at scale before they make a purchase, he added.

AR features, development poses a challenge

Growing that 3D image library is a challenge, Festa acknowledged, given 3D glasses must represent the product in photo-realistic renderings on small handheld devices. Wayfair has a content library of more than 40,000 3D models, and the number is increasing every day. More than 10,000 of these are available on iOS, and that number is growing each day as well, said Festa.

“There are a lot of material settings that can be adjusted and calculated when producing high quality renders that take a lot of time to process. On mobile devices, we need to render the image in real-time at 60 frames per second, so different techniques need to be used to make the product look as good as possible,” he said.

Retailers aiming to go the AR route should make sure user experience remains front and center and be prepared to conduct a lot of user testing, Festa said.

“It is also critical to consider the content that will be used. AR requires 3D models, which may not exist and would need to be created for every product that you want to show in AR.”

Posted with permission from
Photo Credit: Wayfair

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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