Freedom Furniture explores augmented reality with new app

Some people are great at visualising stuff. They know what a dress will look like without trying it on; they can see just how a couch in that designer showroom will enhance the corner by the fireplace in their newly-renovated living area.

Other people aren’t so great at it. But if conceptualizing isn’t your strong point, there’s a new augmented reality app from retailer Freedom Furniture so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel.

The app allows you to pick up a piece of furniture from the online catalogue and plonk it down in your room – virtually of course. Then, looking through your iPad or smartphone or whatever, you can see if the potential new armchair fits the space, you can walk around it, view how the style looks with the rest of the room, change the colour, even get your friend to sit on it, if they have strong thigh muscles.

Within three months you should be able to match it with a coffee table, also imported from the Freedom catalogue (at the moment the app only handles one piece at a time). And within six months you should be able to actually buy the chair via the app.

“Furniture is notoriously hard to conceptualise in a space,” says Freedom’s head of marketing for New Zealand, Jeff Karger. “Our solution ensures your favourite product from our catalogue actually fits your space and matches your existing surrounds without you physically lugging it there.”

It’s not the only virtual furniture app out there, he says, but it’s the only one where you get a to-scale, virtual rendering of the product.

Karger says the idea for app came about a couple of years ago, partly because of the unwanted consequences of an otherwise successful try-before-you-buy sales promotion, which allowed customers to take furniture home on trial before paying for it.

Furniture was getting damaged, Karger says, showrooms were being emptied out and unscrupulous house sellers were using Freedom’s products for open homes before sneaking them back to the store.

“The idea of augmented reality came up, but at the time we thought it would be 10 years down the track and probably far too expensive.”

But when they started investigating, Freedom found a British company,Sayduck, which created a virtual furniture product and piloted it with Freedom, which now has exclusive rights in this part of the world.

So far 200 of the company’s core, best-selling big ticket items have been loaded up, Karger says, and 12 more get added to the app each week.

“Every angle of every product has to be rendered in 3D so when you superimpose your couch into your room you can walk around it and see what it looks like.”

Less than a month after the soft launch and with marketing only just ramping up, the Freedom app has already been downloaded 7000 times, he says.

The company is now trialling modifications which will allow people to put multiple products into their virtual room at the same time. It is also working with reality home decorating show The Block so contestants can try out different bits of furniture for their refurbished houses.

The logical next stage is expanding into e-commerce, which isn’t an option at the moment.

Karger says he isn’t concerned about cannibalising the company’s existing 13 New Zealand stores.

“In homeware, it’s easy to go online and buy wine glasses or a TV.  But people still want to feel a sofa, sit on it and see how soft it is. They want to feel the leather, touch the fabric.”

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