SAN JOSE, California — A California-based technology company’s officials say they are making it affordable for furniture companies to feature low-cost virtual showrooms on their websites, and their client list is lending credibility to their claim.
Officials of Outward Inc., a San Jose technology company founded in 2012, report having developed an extremely economical process of creating three-dimensional virtual images that permit online shoppers 360-degree views of furniture companies’ entire product lines. The result, they say, is enhanced online sales for their clients, which include Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Bassett Furniture, Hooker Furniture and Four Hands.
“Retailing is one of the most challenging businesses out there, but it’s also one where technology can give a company a real competitive advantage,” according to a quote from Outward Inc.’s chief executive officer and co-founder Clarence Chui. “We created Outward to make the visual merchandising process easier for our customers. Very simply, we’re here to help (manufacturers) market and sell (their) products more effectively.”
Online furniture sales are increasing, Outward co-founder Guarev Sethi said during a recent telephone interview, even for products that many consumers might prefer to see and touch prior to purchasing. Backing up his claim, Sethi said web transactions generate more than half of Outward client Williams-Sonoma’s $5 billion annual sales.
Sethi said Outward Inc.’s technology is bringing furniture manufacturer web sites into the 21st century by offering 360-degree views both from ground and overhead perspective. While each piece’s dimensions are listed, the Outward experience goes a step further by allowing customers to create a room size of any proportion, then arrange virtual images of selected images designed to scale to provide a clear vision of how a finished room might appear.
The cost-effectiveness of this technology is the capability to create 360-degree virtual views of an entire product line from a single computer-aided design (CAD) scan of a single piece. Images of the other pieces are created via efficient programming based on hard data obtained from the scanned piece and algorithms to provide realistic, subtle touches ranging from the appearances of wood grain to the varying colors, including minutely different shades of reflected light on upholstery fabric.
This very efficiency also is profitable to furniture manufacturers in terms of time. Sethi said scanning all components of every product line a manufacturer offers would be an extremely lengthy process that manufacturers could find counterproductive. While waiting for product lines to be prepared for web presentation, manufacturers would have to choose between delaying release – and potential sales – of their merchandise or risk being forced to discontinue initially sluggish or unprofitable lines before company officials had the chance to promote them on their websites. In that case, any technological effort and expense devoted to an ill-fated line would be wasted. Sethi said Outward’s time efficiency expedites manufacturers’ ability to present and promote new products to online shoppers.
Automakers have profited from this technology for several years. Agencies would scan vehicle exteriors and interiors. With a click of a mouse, prospective customers could obtain different images of any given make and model and view it in a variety of exterior and interior angles, colors and available options. As Sethi pointed out, an automaker’s entire lineup consists of fewer visible parts, colors and options necessary to a create appealing consumer images, compared to a furniture manufacturer that most often produces numerous lines consisting of many components including visible factors such as color, wood grain, and leg and hardware styles. Add to that the different components of varying product lines designed for different rooms, along with the fact that automakers had higher profit margins to dedicate to virtual showrooms, furniture manufacturers were more or less forced to settle for web-based catalogs featuring photographic images of a product line’s components, some of which would allow customers to zoom into images, creating a more detailed view that could be compared to viewing a traditional printed ad with a magnifying glass.
“The experience now can be described as the closest thing to visiting a furniture showroom without leaving your home,” Sethi said.
by John Lowe