December 27, 2016, 6:00 AM

Ashley Furniture will launch an in-store virtual reality experience

The retailer plans to deploy an augmented reality app and an in-store virtual reality station where consumer can design rooms in 2017.

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Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. is setting up shop in 3-D.

The home-furnishings retailer plans to launch an augmented reality app and an in-store virtual reality experience in 2017.

An augmented reality app allows a consumer to use her smartphone to place furniture in a room.

Using a smartphone camera, the app superimposes a 3-D image of a product into a room so the shopper can see how the furniture looks in her home. The retailer expects to launch the AR app in the summer, says Keith Foy, vice president of retail innovation at Ashley Furniture.

Virtual reality requires a headset that a consumer wears in order to  place the consumer in an entirely virtual environment. With the help of an employee and an iPad, shoppers can design a room with several 3-D images of Ashley products, such as a bed frame, nightstand and dresser, and then put on the headset to see how the pieces look together.

“We saw virtual reality as a key technology allowing Ashley Furniture to grow, differentiate itself and most importantly create value for our customers,” Foy says.

The retailer invested in the technology after hearing from shoppers who struggled to visualize a room, Foy says. “Customers will ask themselves, ‘How will furniture look in my home? How do several pieces look together? How do the furnishings in my entire house work together to create a cohesive style?’ This investment now creates the experience our customer’s desire,” he says.

Consumers typically buy new furniture every five years, so it’s usually a major purchase decision, Foy says. The goal for these projects it to increase sales because shoppers are more confident in purchasing the product, he says. Plus, a consumer may make the decision faster if she has visualization tools.

“When people understand what they’re buying and know that it will fit their space, taste and lifestyle, they are more satisfied with their purchases,” Foy says.

The augmented reality app will also have an add-to-cart function. If a shopper wants to purchase the products she views in the app, she can hit a checkout button, which redirects her to Ashley’s mobile site to complete the transaction.  

Ashley is offering its virtual reality experience in its stores as way to combine in-store and digital shopping advantages, he says. Plus, Ashley knows most consumers do not own a virtual reality headset.

“We do not expect our customers to have their own VR headsets, and certainly do not want to require that; it would be a huge barrier to participation,” Foy says. Ashley will start deploying the in-store virtual reality area in the first half of 2017, Foy says without revealing specifics.

Ashley began working on this project in the middle of 2016 and created an innovation team to work on emerging technology initiatives and platforms. Foy declines to say how large the team is and how much it invested in the technology. Ashley is working with augmented reality and virtual reality platform provider Marxent Labs LLC for these 3-D technology initiatives. Marxent will convert Ashley’s products into 3-D images either via scanning, which involves capturing images of the product from many angles, or creating models of the products.

“These are major enterprise retail technology initiatives and we intend to realize significant value from the implementation,” Foy says.

Other home furnishings and home improvement retailers also have invested in virtual reality, including Wayfair Inc., No. 24 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, and Lowe’s Cos. Inc. (No. 27).

 

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