NEW YORK— As it becomes increasingly sophisticated, retail technology has created new opportunities for the mass market to drive product features that can support consumer lifestyles, such as more deliberately designed storage solutions, with an even greater ability to sell specific benefits emerging.
The process has given mass-market furniture producers and retailers a lift, as they can push features that traditional case goods makers and dealers tend to be slower in appreciating and adding. It also is benefiting producers of storage and related products, who now can design to consumer preferences including the need for containers that will remain in plain sight even as they hide their contents or keep often-used items organized and tucked away but accessible, as is the case of items designed for compatibility with personal care and beauty products.
In its own way, digital retailing is becoming increasingly cosmic as technologies such as artificial intelligence better connect consumers with products that meet their specific preferences and augmented reality gives shoppers a better sense of how to put rooms together. In that context, the ability to demonstrate how particular features enhance a room aesthetically and functionally are becoming more important.
Lifestyle drives marketing and product development in the market as it operates now. Craig Stimson, digital marketing manager at iTouchless, pointed out that kitchen trash cans have become more aesthetically pleasing in part because open floor plans leave consumers no good place to hide them. So iTouchless has developed trash cans and other products, such as countertop composting containers, almost as décor items. In a similar vein, Sterilite developed its Weave product line to provide plastic drawer storage that is closer to furniture in appearance, and so can blend with room décor.
RTA furniture producers, who took the lead in expanding features to address lifestyle needs, including storage, have become increasingly sophisticated in leveraging product features as value-added selling propositions. With e-tailers insisting on 3D photography as they upgrade their merchandising technology, furniture vendors are building off what have become sophisticated e-commerce capabilities to enhance digital merchandising.
Morgan March, merchandising manager at the Linon Powell Group, pointed out that 3D photography and related innovation not only allows the company to better relate specific product features, it also enhances the company’s ability to directly link them to lifestyles.
“You can drop products into all kinds of scenes and give consumers more reasons to buy,” she said. “You can see these features as you would in the home where maybe otherwise you couldn’t really see a fabric or a finish.”
Ikea recently updated its Ikea Place app to better stage artificial reality functions, allowing shoppers to look at multiple items in a room pulled up on a smartphone. They can plan the room in closer accordance with their lifestyles and consider features, such as storage, at the start of the shopping experience.
But the app also delivers the kind of inspiration that Ikea offers at its stores by digitally presenting various room sets and merchandising vignettes. Storage as a furniture benefit is among the features Ikea promotes in those sets and vignettes. Under the topic heading of Inspiration, for instance, Ikea displays a hallway organization system and a range of product components that allow consumers to essentially turn an entryway into an open closet including multiple shoe racks and clothes hanging bars. And the app can provide ideas specific to a customer’s preferences as it responds to individual shopping behavior.
Gerry Rogers, digital transformation leader at Inter Ikea Group, pointed out, “In the bigger perspective, Ikea Place is not about AR or AI. It’s about making Ikea home furnishing expertise more accessible. To do so, we are looking into the newest technologies, not for the sake of technology, but to create a better everyday life.”
At Lamps Plus, Angela Hsu, svp/marketing and e-commerce, told HomeWorld Business, the volume of products it has available through its omnichannel platforms makes technological advancement a central concern as it gets products that more precisely suit shopper preferences in front of them faster.
“Since we offer over 50,000 lighting and furniture products covering a wide variety of design styles, we use technology such as personalization and visual search to help customers quickly find what they are looking for on LampsPlus.com,” she said. “Search parameters can include, for example, contemporary style, bronze finish, small space living or luxe living.”
Through such searches consumers can evaluate options not based just on look but in how various features support their activities.
“Our product personalization engines are able to recommend products with similar features once consumers click on a few products on the website,” Hsu noted. “If our AI detects that a person likes a desk lamp with a USB and outlet, the personalization engine will recommend other desk lamps with similar features and even with a 25% price variance.”
Technology’s ability to provide shoppers with choices customized to their lifestyle preferences continues to improve as interfaces become easier to use.
Wayfair is working to ensure retail technology continues to move forward, recently starting an exploratory group collaboration, now become a working committee, led by its own Shrenik Sadalgi to promote standards that can make 3D models consistent for users and scalable for content producers.
“We look at technology primarily as a way to solve a problem for the customer and enhance their shopping experience,” said Sadalgi, head of Wayfair Next and chair of the Khronos 3D Commerce Working Group. “We view 3D standardization as a way to make it easier to scale 3D content creation, that is virtual products, for everyone from Wayfair to another retail brand to a one-person design shop. By enabling the distribution and consumption of 3D content on any compatible device or platform, more customers can see it on various channels exactly the way the retailer intended it to be seen. We believe that the widespread use of 3D content will lead to more 3D-centric experiences, which will expose more customers to the technology and make them comfortable using it to design spaces they love.”
All the technological work ultimately leads to helping consumers find those products that best suit their
lives at home.
“Augmented reality adds context to the shopping experience by letting you see items in your own space,” Sadalgi said. “That context offers a high degree of personalization: You’re designing your actual room. We believe that all of our tech-driven experiences complement each other in a way that solves real challenges and helps shoppers find exactly what they’re looking for among our massive catalog of 14 million plus items.”