Wayfair Inc. is turning inward to give shoppers a new view of its wares.
The online home furnishings retailer is opening the Wayfair Next Research and Development Laboratory, located at the company’s Boston headquarters. Wayfair Next is dedicated to accelerating the shift to online shopping by improving the visualization of products. Currently, the lab is exploring 3D scanning techniques to digitize the retailer’s catalog to be used for augmented reality, virtual reality and 2D rendering.
“Virtual reality and augmented reality will enable shoppers to bring their home décor ideas to life before they even make a purchase,” said Steve Conine, co-chairman and co-founder, Wayfair. “We look forward to rolling out solutions we believe will make e-commerce a preferred method for purchasing home furnishings, and inspiring and educating the community about the potential of these visualization technologies in the home space.”
In addition to the creation of first-party technologies, the lab also hosts the Wayfair Virtual Reality Experience, a hands-on demo that allows users to transform a room by customizing the model, material, color and layout of furnishings and décor.
Wayfair Next is also building an augmented reality application for Google Tango, which allows users to see how pieces of furniture and décor will look and fit in their homes through the display on a smartphone. The lab will be hosting demos of its virtual reality and Google Tango apps at industry trade shows throughout the rest of 2016.
Wayfair is joining a couple of rapidly expanding clubs with this new venture. In addition to following in the footsteps of other home-oriented retailers such as Lowe’s and Home Depot in offering virtual and augmented reality-based simulations of how products would look in a customer’s home, the company is also opening a proprietary innovation lab.
Target, Walmart, Lowe’s and CVS (whose lab is also in Boston) are just a few of the many retailers that operate their own technology R&D centers. In-house labs allow faster and more controlled development of customized solutions that can provide substantial competitive advantages. They also give retailers an edge in attracting top-notch IT talent, or even start-ups, to work with them.
This announcement comes on the heels of Wayfair launching its proprietary “Idea Boards” social media feature. Clearly the retailer is not waiting for third-party technology providers to deliver innovation.