On the Slant

Erin Berg

Augmented reality: Stick a pin in it

March 20, 2017

The buzz about augmented reality (AR) in the furniture retail space seems to be growing.

Developers and fans of the technology talk excitedly about the innovation and how it will capture today’s tech savvy consumer, and retailers who are early adopters of it — such as Ikea, Wayfair and Jerome’s — have said it has helped to drive sales.

Has it really though? Do we know those purchases wouldn’t have been made anyway? Is AR a sales tactic or trigger? Time will tell the ROI story, but in the meantime my guess is that in the midst of persistently challenging business conditions for retailers, the investment of marketing dollars is based on revenue reality vs. augmented reality.

Given all the hullabaloo — and I have to admit, a degree of FOMO (fear of missing out) — I decided to try out three AR apps. While downloading them from the App Store, I noticed that two of them had rather poor reviews by users and one not rated at all despite that it has been available for years. Sure, one had only five reviews yielding a two-star rating, but the other one used by a mega-retailer had almost 90 reviews and received 1.5 stars rating. Stick a pin in that.

The first one I tried worked fine overall. The instructions to hold the camera up in the room and get a product to appear on the screen were easy to understand and execute. The product size seemed fairly accurate in relationship to other objects in the room and when I walked up to it. But it was rather glitchy, with the furniture disappearing and reappearing randomly.

The second one I tried was a disaster from the start. By disaster, I mean I couldn’t even get it to work. I followed the instructions on the screen to scan the catalog tech failon the floor and back away slowly until a product appeared. Nothing happened. I tried it a few more times, holding my device differently and injecting a few expletives into the experience. That didn’t work either. Hashtag tech fail.

The third app almost didn’t even make the trial period because by now I had had enough, but in the spirit of investigative journalism, I gave it a go and was pleasantly surprised that it worked much better than the other two. However, I still did not trust that the size and scale were accurate, so in the end, I relied on a tape measure, the one-dimensional product image and my imagination to visualize it in my space.

Some say the technology helps to speed up the buying process and addresses one of the most common objections from furniture shoppers: the uncertainty of how the furniture will look in their room at home.

I would argue that it doesn’t. By definition, “augmented” describes something that has been made greater in size or value. The time I spent on even one of the apps will not replace what I consider higher value time in a store with the product to touch it, inspect the quality, ask questions of a salesperson if needed and make an emotional connection with it.

Until those things are possible with AR, I’m sticking a pin it.

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