Can augmented reality reinvigorate one-time e-commerce darling Fab?

July 12, 2016 12:08 PM

One-time e-commerce darling Fab is betting on augmented reality to breathe new life into its brand.

The home furnishings and fashion accessories e-retailer, which at one time was valued at $1 billion, updated its iOS app last week to include augmented reality technology that lets a shopper see how a piece of art will look on her wall before she purchases it.

The retailer’s development of augmented reality stemmed from a “hack-athon” the retailer hosted in February with developers tasked with finding ways to reinvigorate Fab’s brand, says Emil Bergh, the retailer’s senior UX designer. 

PCH International, which helps entrepreneurs turn ideas into brands and makes consumer technology products for companies such as Apple, acquired Fab for $15 million in 2015. Previously, Fab raised $300 million in venture capital and at its peak in mid-2012 brought in more than $100 million annually.

Here’s how the new feature works: On the product page within the app, a consumer can hit the Visualize button. The app then presents her with a three-step tutorial on how to use the feature. The consumer draws herself a tic-tac-toe board on a standard-size computer piece of paper. She then hangs the paper on the wall where she wants the art to go. She holds her smartphone up, points it at the paper, and her device shows her how the art will look on the wall.

It typically takes a few seconds for the piece of art to appear, Bergh says. The consumer can walk around with her smartphone and see how the piece looks from different angles. The piece of paper and drawing is needed so the software can recognize a standard size image, interpret how far away the consumer is from the wall and accurately show the art to scale, Bergh says.

From this page in the app, shoppers can add the art to their cart and check out, Bergh says. Fab hopes that having the feature will give consumers more confidence that the art they are interested in would look good in their homes, he says.

Only a few days into the rollout, consumers are using the augmented reality feature, Bergh says, noting that between 10% and 15% of consumers who browsed the art category in Fab’s app used the feature.

“Mobile is very important and a big focus for us right now,” Bergh says. Bergh would not comment on Fab’s annual sales, or what percent of its sales are made via mobile devices.

The retailer will measure the success of the feature if consumers who use it convert at a higher rate than consumers who don’t, Bergh says.

Fab is letting consumers know about it via ads on its website as well as via email. To encourage use, the retailer is running a contest in which consumers who share their augmented reality picture will be entered to win a prize, Bergh says.

About 12 employees spent roughly five months building the feature. Fab rolled it out last week. Consumers can browse the app’s 2,500 art pieces and see how they would look on their home walls.

Part of the development also included bringing in consumers to test the feature. Fab went through three rounds of testing, in which five to 10 consumers tried using it and gave Fab their feedback.

“The first two rounds were honestly difficult,” Bergh says. “It’s a new concept for people that didn’t know what they were doing.”

For example, Fab instructed consumers to draw the Fab logo on the piece of paper to hang up on the wall and consumers didn’t understand what they were doing, he says. After tweaking its three-step tutorial that explained how to use it, and switching to having consumers draw a tic-tac-toe board,  the third user testing round went well, he says.

Art is the first phase of augmented reality for Fab, as the e-retailer wants to use the feature for consumers to virtually try on jewelry, Bergh says. For this to work, consumers set their smartphone camera into “selfie mode” and see pieces of Fab’s jewelry on them in real time. is also in the process of revamping its Android app. The new version of the Android app will include augmented reality, Bergh says. 




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