Kitchen sofas and other adventures in AR

Are furniture visualisation apps missing the point?

Last night, I positioned a sofa in the middle of my kitchen. “Nah”, I thought. So next I tried an armchair. And then a bookshelf. I did it all by myself without breaking a sweat.

I was using the Ikea Place app - the latest in a wave of augmented reality furniture visualisation apps that are promising to “change the way we shop”. It’s the kind of thing that has high street retailers worried - and understandably so. There is no doubt that AR will disrupt the retail status quo. That said, there’s a long way to go before furniture visualisation apps provide more value than gimmick. Take Ikea Place as an example.

After a few goes at placing furniture in a room, the novelty wears off and you’re left wondering whether the app is helping or hindering your quest. There are still a lot of glitches in terms of sizing, positioning as well the look and feel of the object - which no doubt will continue to be ironed out - but that’s beside the point. The real question is, does the Ikea Place App truly answer customers’ needs?

If the need is as simple as “how does a specific item look in a specific context ?” then, yes, bar the glitches, it sort of works. The downside is that this curtails the app’s usefulness to the consideration phase of the customer journey. To provide real value to the customer when they are so close to the point of purchase, the app needs to convince people that they are making the right choice rather than burden them with endless options.

Another issue is that most often, the customer’s problem isn’t with the item per se, but with the context itself. In other words, they might be shopping for a sofa but what they really want is to be inspired. People want to be transported to a different place, a better place than their unsatisfactory living room filled with its unsatisfactory furniture. A narrow focus on the product does little to tap into our imaginations.

The thing is, Ikea knows this better than anyone. Take a trip to one of Ikea's stores and you’ll spend hours wandering about their in-store rooms sets - a stroke of genius. The room sets provide a fully immersive environment where everything has been artfully arranged to look great together. That is why we end up buying not just the sofa, but the rug and matching lamp too. Because even though we’re shopping for the product, we’re actually buying into the lifestyle.

So until furniture visualisation apps like Ikea Place allow us to be immersed in an online version of the designer show room, where we can be inspired as well as make changes to our home environment with a wave of a hand, they are little more than a virtual tape measure. In some instances, it might still be easier to use an old fashioned analogue one!

Key takeouts

  • Consider where in the customer journey AR will be used.
    A simplified customer journey can be thought of as a progression through the following phases:
    attraction -> interest -> consideration -> purchase -> loyalty
  • Concentrate on adding real value to the customer.
    For example, at the point of consideration, the purpose of a furniture visualisation app is to help customers make a key purchasing decision.