Wayfair opens an innovation lab focused on virtual reality

May 12, 2016 02:06 PM

Online home furnishings retailer Wayfair LLC is betting more shoppers will use 3-D and virtual reality devices such as the Oculus Rift to buy furniture online in the next few years.  

Wayfair, No. 24 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, opened an innovation lab at its Boston headquarters to develop and refine 3-D technology so that when usage becomes mainstream Wayfair is ready, co-founder Steve Conine says. The retailer moved two engineers and hired four more to work in the lab, which it calls the Wayfair Next Research and Development Laboratory.

“We feel like the tools in that space have gotten to a tipping point where they’ve become easier to use,” he says. “We want to be at the front of the pack running toward this technology rather than playing catch-up two years from now.”

Wayfair has been growing rapidly, with direct-to-consumer sales up 93% in the first quarter ended March 31. The e-retailer also has been spending more on online, TV and direct mail advertising. Online, its largest advertising channel, includes display ads, social media ads and transactional advertisements. Wayfair earned the No. 1 spot in Internet Retailer’s Best Digital Marketers in E-Commerce, which scores retailers on their performance on search, social and email marketing metrics.

Conine declined to say what Wayfair spent to create the lab, calling it a “small investment in an area that we think is very focused.” Engineers in the lab will focus on building technology that allows shoppers to see how Wayfair’s products will look in rooms in their homes in a three-dimensional setting.

Current smartphones don’t display 3-D images well, but future generations will, Conine says. He also expects such devices as Facebook’s Oculus Rift 3-D gaming headset to be used for other purposes, including retail. “Our demographic will buy Oculus headsets for their kids to play Minecraft,” he says. “Three years from now, more of our shoppers will have these devices in their homes, and we can provide the opportunity for them to visualize our products in their homes.”

Wayfair isn’t the only furniture retailer to experiment with 3-D technology.

Earlier this year, online home design company Modsy began testing 3-D technology with eight unnamed retailers, which have sent their product catalog databases to the company. Shoppers can take pictures of a room, upload them to Modsy’s site, and have them rendered into a 3-D model that Modsy then emails to the shopper within two days.




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