Ikea knows that its highly profitable model of physical stores needs to evolve in the digital age. And now, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the company is making a big bet on a new way to try and buy furniture online: Augmented reality, on iPhones and iPads.
Think Pokémon Go for buying furniture. Thanks to Apple’s new ARKit–the augmented reality technology that is part of the upcoming iOS 11 update–people will be able to hold up their Apple tablets to see virtual Ikea tables, lamps, and couches, at proper scale and in color, right inside their living space. Presumably, one would be able to easily order said furniture in the app as well, but those details are still unclear. Ikea has already been experimenting with VR shopping, and the company has teased the potential of partnerships with new, online retailers. The company’s 2014 catalog was even accompanied by an experimental stand-alone AR app for trying out its offerings.
It’s potentially very big news for Ikea, and for Apple: the biggest furniture company in the world is teaming up with the biggest company in the world. Augmented reality is a major investment for Apple’s competitors including Facebook and Google, but few apps have really proven its value thus far. Pokémon Go, with 65 million players worldwide, has been an unquestioned hit, as have Snapchat’s addictive, silly lenses, which both beautify and grossify your face.
But social media and gaming are different markets than retail, particularly furniture retail because we still like to buy furniture in person. Frankly, gaming and social media are both easier markets for AR to disrupt, if only because we’re already playing and tweeting on our screens.
Meanwhile, furniture would be a big prize for online retailers, if only we could ship these big pieces cheaply, and if only customers could envision expensive couches without going to a store. The $100 billion U.S. furniture market falls just a few billion dollars behind clothing and consumer electronics. But while a lot of companies have released AR furniture tools for the home, but can you name a single one?
But the Apple play could be a breakthrough for the company, and retail in general, in bringing AR to countless shoppers making big ticket purchases at home. Or, it could flop! People could continue to go to their local Ikea to get their bookcase and meatball fix, just as they always have. And retail will have to wait a bit longer for its Pokémon Go moment.