Wayfair is not exactly a stranger to enhanced and virtual reality. The eCommerce home furnishing firm made some headlines waves earlier this year for a high-tech mobile app that let users virtually redesign the rooms in their home — provided they had the right top-of-the-line phone camera on a high-end phone that actually hasn’t hit the market in wide release yet.
But one can’t doubt Wayfair’s commitment to getting ahead of virtual reality, as it has officially announced the launch of its first VR application for Oculus Rift.
Called Patio Playground, the app allows the headset wearer to virtually navigate a lakeside setting and select different outdoor furniture sets and other products from the Wayfair collection. The goal is to help consumers create their ideal backyard by allowing them to “place” virtual renderings of their physical furniture in a realesque world. We imagine the app works best for consumers whose backyards most closely resemble idyllic lakeside vistas.
The Playground Patio app comes care of Wayfair Next, the company’s in-house R&D department.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to help our customers better visualize the product,” Wayfair’s Mike Festa noted in an interview earlier this year. Festa heads up Wayfair’s VR and AR team. A two-year veteran of the firm, he is an early adopter and developer of VR with a simple vision: get out ahead of where the market is inevitably going.
Wayfair is not alone in its virtual/augmented reality dabblings in retail — though as developing a complex app for Oculus Rift is not a cheap exercise, perhaps dabbling is putting it a bit lightly at this point. The hope is that, with properly directed virtual reality, eCommerce merchants can bridge that last gap between them and their physical retail counterparts — the ability to give consumers the feeling of directly interacting with the products. It is a standard that many retailers are looking for in the digital space – from home furnishings to fashion.
Sure, a customer can like a dress on Amazon, but they can’t try it on, which is a limit since an item of clothing is only as valuable as its actual fit in real life. Similarly, that wrought iron patio set might have looked like the height of chin in a store – but putting it out on the deck is where the rubber hits the road, design-wise. In the world of home decoration, it can look fine in a perfectly curated image; however, what something will look like when hanging in an actual room can often be a whole other story.
Patio Playground is a first step to closing that gap by giving users a feel for their items in a real-ish world setting. However, the effort — and the many early applications out there like it — still have to cross the almost equally important chasm of convincing consumers their items will actually look good in their own individual homes and gardens. Knowing how a patio set looks in Narnia is a neat feature, but knowing how it will look on the actual deck it is supposed to go on is arguably a more useful piece of information.
But it does not seem out of the realm of possibility that such functionality could be developed, and given the work the firm has already done on the WayfairView AR app, it seems fairly likely that such a jump may, in fact, be imminent. The virtual interior decoration app was developed for Oculus Rift before it was developed for a smartphone.
And if Wayfair can make it easy for consumers to virtually redesign their homes by wearing a headset for a little while, it might have found a killer use for those headsets after all.