IKEA AR app could be a catalyst for its evolution

The Swedish furniture giant’s AR app could prove to be a lot more than a novelty factor.
29 May 2019

The household name in affordable furniture. Source: Shutterstock

IKEA’s blue and yellow warehouses have long been the flagbearers of its world-famous furniture business.

On the inside, these giant stores enable customers to get a feel for products in a home environment. But in a world now dominated by e-commerce, the Swedish furniture giant wants to bring that experience online.

IKEA is launching an augmented reality-based (AR) app that will allow consumers to visualize furniture in their own homes, from their own homes.

“It is a completely new experience,” Barbara Martin Coppola, Chief Digital Officer at IKEA, told Reuters. “The app is combined with the store experience, with the online experience.”

The platform will arrive in France and the Netherlands first, but the firm’s top eight markets will follow by the end of the year, including Germany, the United States and China.

Customers can input their room dimensions into the app and find products based on different styles and life stages. They can view these as they would appear in their own homes and can then make an order through the app.

AR is not new territory for IKEA, though. The multinational brand gained recognition for its use of the technology in 2017 when it launched an app that allowed users to view more than 2,000 items in their homes.

However, customers weren’t able to make orders through the platform, and while its current app allows for the creation of ‘shopping lists’ to help with in-store visits, only its website allows for remote purchases.

The move to launch the app is also thought to complement IKEA’s move to trial smaller downtown stores with a more limited range of goods. The app here would allow customers to sample a wider range of products in comparison.

Retailers going virtual

On paper, virtual reality (VR), AR and artificial intelligence (AI) are exciting new technologies that can help retailers engage shoppers, adding a new experience layer to the shopping process.

The reality is, however, that while 79 percent of retail executives believe AI and VR will drive sales, just 14 percent of consumers said they would have an impact on their purchase decisions, according to an Oracle NetSuite report.

But what’s missing from most retailers’ experiments with emerging technologies is practicality. Designing your own trainers in-store, VR mirrors in dressing rooms, and Walmart’s Pokemon Go-inspired AR might be a novel touch and drive some temporary PR points. The ability to view how a sofa might fit into your living room, on the other hand, could save customers a congested trip to their nearest IKEA store and a potentially costly and time-consuming returns process.

Retailers are beginning to realize that consumers require value from emerging technologies that go beyond the novelty factor. In terms of IKEA’s competitors, Reuters noted that online furniture retailer Made.com has launched an online interior design service driven by AI, which can mock up a 3D image of consumers’ homes furnished tastefully (we imagine) with its own products.  

Made.com is also launching pop-up showrooms in airports and in the locale of smaller IKEA stores.

“Every single customer journey starts online and ends online but they still need to have the capacity to touch and feel,” Made.com CEO, Philippe Chainieux told Reuters.

The retail industry should pay close attention to how IKEA’s e-commerce strategy pans out. If customers need to spend less time in out-of-town stores, Coppola says it may reimagine these warehouses as supply hubs for deliveries and its new batch of smaller high street stores. And that would be somewhat of a case study in cost-effective retail evolution.