Home furnishing e-retailer Wayfair debuts a virtual reality app for patio designs, aiming to perfect the experience before VR becomes mainstream.

Forget trying to design your deck, patio or porch with a drawing. Wayfair LLC is setting up outdoor furniture in another dimension.

The home furnishings retailer launched a virtual reality app to let consumers design an outdoor patio area. Wayfair debuted the app, Patio Playground, last week for consumers with the Oculus Rift 3-D gaming headset.

In the app consumers can arrange patio furniture in a virtual setting, see how it looks from different angles and in various types of daylight. Wayfair has 85 products for consumers to place in the patio scene, and they can place up to 15 items in the setting at one time, says Mike Festa, head of Wayfair’s research and development lab.

Consumers wearing an Oculus Rift headset can select a preconfigured patio, such as two chairs and a table with an umbrella, and then switch out the products, or they can build their patio layout from scratch, Festa says. Wayfair allows consumers to switch out products via their hand controller, or, for a dash of fun, consumers can choose to have a virtual drone fly in and beam down the patio furniture. Consumers can physically move within a three-foot space to get a different view of the product. For example, a consumer can bend down to see the bottom of a grill. If she wants to see how the furniture would look from a different direction, she can change her view by “teleporting” across the patio; she does not physically walk there.

The retailer, No. 24 in the  Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, did not tie a purchasing component into the virtual reality app yet. Wayfair wants to use the Patio Playground to test a virtual reality experience, see how consumers engage with it and use that feedback for the next iteration, Festa says.

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“It’s great to have a product out there and getting user feedback out on it,” he says. “That will help make the next release even more polished.”

In addition to feedback, other noncash benefits to launching the virtual reality experience include boosting brand awareness, showcasing Wayfair’s innovation in the virtual reality field and e-commerce industry, pleasing suppliers that have their products featured in this new format, and helping recruit engineers, Festa says.

Wayfair hopes to integrate shopping into virtual reality at some point and offer a virtual reality app for all VR headsets. The retailer hopes the technology can someday drive sales, but that point is years from now, Festa says.

“We’re anticipating that consumers will not adopt the [virtual reality] technology for a few years, but at that point we will be well positioned to take advantage of the new platform,” Festa says.

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Wayfair wants consumer feedback about the mechanics of the app, such as how easy is it to add products to a scene and change them, or how easy it is for a user to move around the scene, Festa says. The retailer also will measure how long consumers spend in the Patio Playground, and if certain settings or product configurations compel users to spend more time and interact with the scene. For example, if consumers prefer designing a scene featuring a grill at dusk, that would be the default setting for new users.

“When companies send out email campaigns to customers, they measure the metrics of how many people opened the email [and] engage in looking at those products. In some ways, we want to be able to do the same thing in VR,” Festa says.

The Patio Playground has a limited number of products, so Festa says he’s not sure how much time consumers will spend in the app. “It’s a short experience. A quick little sandbox to play with,” Festa says. “It’s not an epic game that you play for weeks.”

Wayfair debuted this app with Oculus VR because the virtual reality headset maker, owned by Facebook Inc., lent the $599 headsets to the retailer to develop the app, Festa says. Wayfair began developing Patio Playground in January and about seven employees had a hand in the ongoing project, he says.

Most Oculus apps are gaming apps, so most of the consumers using the headset are playing games—not shopping. Wayfair’s app, however, is one of only seven apps in the concepts section of the Oculus Rift Experiences app store, giving it great exposure, Festa says.

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The Patio Playground is a low-risk way to test concepts. “We’re putting it out there as a fun experience,” Festa says.

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