Bridging the imagination gap

The chief executive of mixed-reality company Digital Bridge, David Levine, looks at how Augmented Reality could change the way a new generation of consumers buy kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms

Making the right decisions when it comes to home renovations can be tricky. Home furnishings are often costly, complex to install and difficult to return, meaning that making the right decision first time is incredibly important.

This is causing consumers to delay the final purchasing decision until they are absolutely sure they are making the correct choice. In many cases, shoppers will even abandon the purchase altogether, such is their fear of making the wrong decision.

This problem – known as the imagination gap – is an expensive one, costing retailers an estimated £1 billion annually in the UK alone, and this figure is substantially higher worldwide. This is because consumers are opting out of buying big-ticket, home-interior products as they are unable to imagine how these products will fit into their kitchens, bedrooms or bathrooms.

Here, we’ll take a look at how this issue can be solved by emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), which helps millions of customers overcome the long-standing issue of the imagination gap by allowing them to preview virtually exactly how products will fit into their home before they buy.

Augmented Reality

So, why is AR so important?

AR works by overlaying digital elements on to the real world and can be used to help prospective customers virtually “try on” furniture, accurately modelling exactly how it would look in their home and therefore taking a huge step towards bridging the imagination gap.

But, why are we talking about this now? After all, AR technology isn’t that new – in fact, it’s been around for almost half a century.

David Levine
David Levine

While this may be the case, AR tech hadn’t really taken off in a mainstream setting until earlier this year, with the launch of ARKit and ARCore – mixed-reality development kits brought to market over the summer by tech giants Apple and Google.

This heavy investment has thrust AR firmly into the spotlight, and we’ve already seen some intriguing use in the retail sector from the likes of Amazon and IKEA, allowing consumers to visualise a range of products in their homes before purchasing.

AR-enabled room visualisation tools have tremendous potential to transform retail, with our research showing that more than 28 million consumers in the UK (55% of the market) would be more likely to make a purchase if they had access to a visualisation tool.

The AR advantage

While the imagination gap is an issue for consumers and businesses alike across the retail sector, it is a particular problem for businesses selling expensive, high-profile products, or those that are involved with long-term projects.

The KBB sector, which is worth an estimated £3 billion a year in the UK, and a staggering $48.6 billion in the US, is a prime example of this.

Redesigning a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom is a complex process, governed by intricate design rules that, if not followed, can lead to an expensive investment that’s incredibly difficult to reverse. In fact, our research found that correcting a poorly thought-out design can cost the consumer as much as £3,000 in some cases.

This is where AR visualisation technology comes in. It essentially brings the retail showroom to your customers by allowing them to overlay accurate models of products onto their existing kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms at home.

With 56% of homeowners planning to make some kind of home upgrade in 2017, emerging technologies such as AR that aid their buying decisions are poised to have a major impact across the home interiors and KBB sectors.

This influence is only going to increase over the next few months, as developers get to grips with ARCore and ARKit and begin to offer more developed user experiences.

Where next?

AR’s popularity has exploded over the past year, orginally stemming from the 2016 release of Niantic’s wildly popular AR game, Pokemon Go.

Now, the launch of ARKit and ARCore is set to open up mainstream AR to the masses in a way never before possible.

KBB retailers who proactively offer innovative new experiences and solutions to long-standing customer issues like the imagination gap will be best placed to benefit from the shift in how consumers are buying.

I believe that AR will be key to enabling KBB retailers to stand out in an ever-more competitive marketplace, to solve the long-standing issue of the imagination gap, and to engage the new generation of customers.

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