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The experience of Design Within Reach aside, retail analysts say the future of the web-based design-it-yourself tools is likely research, not online sales.
“People like to play and look around and see what is out there,” says Retail Forward’s Wissman. “If you’re remodeling your kitchen, there are a lot of options to look at before you go with one. A lot of the tools out there are pretty neat. But it’s still early in terms of testing and seeing what tools people really will use. Long term, they’re going to be more sustainable as part of the marketing and discovery process.”
It may be early in the life of these tools, but the user vanguard already is pushing for more. Once again, the web has raised consumer expectations. In addition to feedback from users thrilled with Design A Room, Armstrong’s Engle also hears from others who are disappointed. “They tell us there are not enough wall colors, cabinet colors or ability to change out the countertops,” he says. “It didn’t do what they wanted it to do.”
Armstrong’s conclusion about that customer group has implications for any retailer or manufacturer using or considering design tools online. “There is now a whole class of consumer who expects this kind of functionality online and may even have experience using it in other product categories,” Engle says. “It’s not enough for them to just play around with it. They want to use it to get as close as possible to what the room is actually going to look like and they’re placing a lot of weight on the outcome.”
As a result, it’s safe to say that this is just the start of a new burst of functionality that only the web can bring to retailing. “As we look at where we want to go in the next phase of this,” Engle says, “we’re planning to build out visualization in a way that meets the requirements of both kinds of customers.”