December 29, 2010, 12:40 PM

So, will that sandbox get in the way of my tulips?

An online retailer of play equipment is the latest to use virtual product viewing technology.

Lead Photo

A Germany-based manufacturer and online retailer of playground equipment has launched a tool that enables shoppers to see how horizontal bars or sandboxes might look in the backyard by inserting a lifelike image of the equipment into a consumer-generated photo of where the gear might go.

Turnstangen, which operates the e-commerce site Turnstangen.de, recently became the 5th online retailer to offer the technology from YouReality, a U.S.-based firm that since June has licensed what it calls an online retail visualizer. The general idea is not new. Fashion retailers use technology to give consumers a better idea of how clothes might look on different body types or with other apparel. And earlier this year, Benjamin Moore & Co. launched its first e-commerce site with a tool called Personal Color Viewer, which enables shoppers to upload photos and digitally paint their rooms with Benjamin Moore colors.

The U.S. firm’s technology strives to make the perspective and product representations as realistic as possible. That is done in part by the use of what YouReality calls markers: pieces of paper that have special patterns on them that tell the visualization software the proper perspectives and dimensions of the consumer-submitted landscape or living space.

Here is how it works, according to YouReality founder Michelle Fallon: A consumer visits an e-commerce site that licenses the technology. From that e-commerce site, the consumer prints out a copy of the marker, which is on a standard 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper.

The consumer then places that marker in a spot inside the photo. For instance, a shopper wondering how a sandbox would look in the back yard would place the marker on the ground in the approximate area where the sandbox would go. The consumer then uses a standard digital camera to photograph the space, making sure the maker is included in the photo. The consumer can take photos from different angles as long as the marker stays in the picture.

The consumer uploads the photo to the e-commerce site. Then, following instructions on the web site, the consumer inserts the image of the desired product into the uploaded photo to see how the product looks in the space.

“The online retail visualizer allows the consumer to actually see in 3-D how our products will look in perspective and dimension in their backyard,” says Arno Driemeyer, founder and CEO of Turnstangen.  “It brings us a competitive edge, offers our web consumers a state-of-the-art shopping experience and increases their comfort level with buying online.”

The technology also works in-store for consumers who prefer to see the results at a merchant’s computer, Fallon says.

Retailers pay a licensing fee for the technology. Fallon says contracts that retailers sign typically run for two years. She says four other retailers are using the technology, with more set to begin in early 2011.

The company also has launched an app for iPhones that Turnstangen plans to use in early 2011. The app relies on the phone’s live video capabilities to capture the space where a product might go, inserting the product image into the video, she says.

Integrating the technology into a retailer’s e-commerce site can take between four to six weeks, Fallon says. Her company must construct models of a retailer’s products—that is, mathematical representations that can be used by the visualization software.  “The time depends on how many products we have to model,” she says. For retailers that already have product models, YouReality can revise them so they work with the software, she adds.

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