Augmented reality is an integral part of web-only home improvement merchant Build.com Inc.’s future, says Dan Davis, the retailer’s chief technology officer.
AR technology allows shoppers who have smartphones souped up with depth-sensing cameras to view to-scale objects on their mobile screens. For example, a shopper can see what a sofa looks like in her living room, if it coordinates with her other furniture and if it fits where she wants it to go—all through the camera lens on her smartphone. The reason for Build.com’s bullishness is simple, augmented reality is already producing results. In December, only a few months after rolling out the feature to 37 products, a tiny fraction of its 850,000 SKUS, it was driving sales, Build.com says. That’s also despite only about 20% of its shoppers having access to the feature on their phones, Davis says. Retailers can see the mobile operating system consumers are using via analytics software. Augmented reality is only available on certain smartphones running specific operating systems. Build.com’s results have led the retailer’s executives to OK a tenfold increase in its AR budget, he says, noting Build.com is “all-in” when it comes to developing more products in augmented reality and a 3-D future.
“As a pure-play internet retailer, we see no better way of connecting with our customers,” Davis says. “We’re doubling down on this being. It’s a bet we are making.”
Build.com has plenty of company among retailers that believe augmented reality can transform the way consumers shop for home furnishings online. Wayfair Inc., Williams-Sonoma Inc., Lowe’s Cos. Inc. and Overstock.com Inc. all believe that augmented reality will make it easier for shoppers to buy home furnishing products online. Each of those merchants has invested substantial time and money—in some cases more than $100 million—in the technology, despite limited consumer use of it for now. Those retailers believe the slow uptake is the result of augmented reality requiring shoppers to purchase premium mobile devices that, until recently, few consumers owned. That changed in November with the release of Apple Inc.’s latest operating system iOS 11. Many merchants think that as more consumers have access to the technology, more shoppers will use the feature. Until then, however, the return on investment from retailers’ efforts hasn’t been clear.
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