17.–23.01.2022 #immcologne

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Home furnishings, virtually

Digital interiors consultants: The future of the furniture industry

By spotting innovations and using them to its advantage, the furnishing industry has shown that it is ready for the digital transformation. From Amazon to video consultations through to digital showrooms: creativity knows no bounds. The experiences of the last year in particular have prompted many retailers and manufacturers to investigate new sales channels such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR).

A woman wearing augmented reality glasses sits in front of a computer.

Grenzenlose Möglichkeiten. Der technische Fortschritt ermöglicht der Einrichtungsbranche völlig neue Wege der Beratung.

Digital interiors consultations: a win-win situation

Retailers and manufacturers definitely need to keep an eye on the VR trend and the opportunities it offers and see it as food for thought. The Association of the German Furniture Industry (VDM) estimates that online retail currently accounts for 18 per cent of sales in Germany’s interior design sector. This figure is expected to rise even further to at least 25 per cent in the coming years.

The new technologies could help the furniture industry overcome a long-standing problem. That’s because VR and AR can allow customers to explore and experience the full range of available products without having to leave their own four walls and invest a lot of time. Although the trend is still in its infancy, the technology is already able to intercept customers when they’re having difficulty choosing and help them to make a purchase decision in a fun way. This way, the customer can get a sense of how a room will look and how the furniture would be arranged before they buy it, and it can also make even online shopping an interactive experience.

Online interior design is more convenient for furniture shoppers

Numerous interior design companies have now made it their business to provide customers with virtual rooms – either completely empty and unadorned or modelled on the customer’s own home. This allows potential buyers to try out interior design styles, arrange furniture however they like and see whether an item would work in their home. Not only does this make choosing easier, but it also dispenses with the long journey to the furniture showroom, the annoying process of measuring furniture or having to physically reposition heavy items. The disappointing experience of discovering after delivery that a certain new designer piece does not fit in the space at all can also be prevented by true-to-scale graphics.

Blending offline and online in interior design

Jan Becker from Becker Interior has also been exploring the possibilities of VR and AR in the furniture industry for a number of years. Thanks to his early interest in the potential of these new technologies, he and his company were able to try out new sales channels during the pandemic and transform digital experiences into real-life experiences for his customers. In addition to digital showrooms, he sent out care packages with fabrics to touch or, in the case of leather, to sniff. This way, all of the customers’ senses could still be engaged during the largely digital furniture purchasing process. Becker is also mindful of the emotional connection we have with our homes, the work–life balance considerations involved in buying furniture and the possibilities of internationalisation through digitalised services.

Tomorrow’s interiors consultants lead the way

In other words, virtual shopping experiences are gaining ground. In addition to digital showroom s, which theoretically offer the possibility of replacing expensive retail space with unlimited virtual space that is accessible everywhere, all the time, companies are seeking to inspire their customers above all via interactive apps and website services:

  • 1. Berlin-based start-up Indecorate wants to make interior design advice affordable using modern AR technology. For example, customers can currently get advice on furnishing a room for as little as Euro 250. In addition, a network of interiors consultants is being developed who can be contacted locally, if required. As an extra incentive, there are plans to offer customers discounts at several furniture retailers.
  • 2. In the USA, the online interior design service Modsy realised there was an increased demand for new, functional home office solutions during the pandemic and now offers its customers ultra-realistic 3D images of their rooms at home. This allows them to plan design schemes for entire living spaces and fit them out with true-to-scale products even before making a purchase.
  • 3. “ Upscale Interior " from Zurich also specialises in office premises. It aims to make interior design advice as digital as possible and to steer customers towards their dream office in a fun way. By making a design quiz a key part of its website, Upscale finds out about its clients’ aesthetic preferences with just a few questions.
  • 4. Topology Interiors is an award-winning interior design blog and online design service based in London. In addition to prioritising affordability, its primary focus is on insider tips, style secrets and blogger gossip. By offering furnishings advice in various formats, including interior design workshops as well as online and on-site design, Topology bridges the gap between analogue and digital services, managing to be close to and connected with customers even while embracing digitalisation.

From e-commerce to v-commerce: what do manufacturers need to consider?

As lucrative as the new digital sales channels may be, there are some pitfalls to be mindful of. One challenge, for example, can lie in preparing the products to be as realistic as possible. Exact data and dimensions for pieces of furniture as well as the rooms themselves are essential when it comes to creating true-to-scale representations in 3D models – otherwise there is a risk of a rude awakening for customer and retailer alike once the purchase has been made.

The Stilkoncil is one source of support in problematic areas like this. The association was set up by the German-based European Furniture Federation (EMV), which wants to combine the forces of its network of over 1,000 European sales outlets in the premium furniture segment to meet the challenges of digitalisation. Partners are given support to develop an effective marketing mix of online and offline activities, without paying a membership fee or licence fee.

Find out more about exciting organisations like Stilkoncil, Upscale Spaces and Modsy on our ambista business network .