Retail

Ikea introduces online virtual reality store that lets customers see furniture up close, wherever they are

Dominic Powell /

Soon, the only reason to step inside an Ikea store could be the meatballs.

The at times wacky Swedish furniture retailer announced the introduction of its new online virtual reality store in Australia yesterday, which will allow customers to don their VR goggles and take a virtual walk through an Ikea store.

Customers in regional areas that have access to the store’s recently rolled-out online shopping offerings can make purchases through the VR application and have them delivered, while inner-city shoppers can organise a click and collect.

While the technology works best with VR goggles, the retailer has also created a basic, non-VR offering to allow users to browse the store from a desktop computer, operating much like Google StreetView.

The company claims the approach is a first for a large-format retailer in Australia. However,  Myer also dabbled in VR last year, creating a virtual department store for customers who were unable to get into a bricks and mortar location.

“The Ikea Virtual Reality store has been developed to support our online shopping service. We know that it’s important for customers to see and experience our home furnishings range. Ikea has recently made a move towards online retailing, but we want to offer the full Ikea store experience to our online shoppers,” Ikea Australia multichannel specialist Malcolm Haylett said in a statement.

“Through the innovative tool you can stand in a room-set and visualise it as if you were there in person, and you can for example, see our full range of sofas or beds at a glance. In the Ikea Virtual Reality Store you self-navigate the experience as if you walking an Ikea store.”

Retail expert at Retail Oasis Pippa Kulmar believes VR is a “natural extension” for homeware and home improvement brands like Ikea and American company Lowes, but for other categories, retailers are still trying to “work out how it’s done”.

“Retailers are trying to work out the most effective way to use VR, and Ikea’s using it in a clever way to drive more engagement with their catalogue and show they’re the thought leader in their market,” Kulmar tells SmartCompany.

“In terms of actual use and application for consumers, it’s yet to be seen.”

VR a good move in certain categories

Kulmar notes the VR approach only works for certain categories, such as homewares and furnishings, where customers can see items for purchase “in situ”. Categories requiring customers to head in-store, such as cosmetics, are less likely to benefit, and due to this Kulmar believes VR is “more for the male shopper than the female”.

“If you can avoid having to go into the store that’s awesome, but I still don’t know if consumers will use it in the way it’s being used currently”, she says.

The “quirkiness” of Ikea is another big selling point for these sorts of offerings, says Kulmar, noting the retailer is “not afraid to stick their neck out” and do things differently.

This is a tact she believes SMEs can take on board.

“Try to be the thought leader in your category. Trying new things is okay even if you fail because you’ll get awareness and publicity out of it. Just make sure what you do fits with the brand, and is helping customers fix a problem,” she says.

More VR offerings from retailers are likely to keep cropping up, says Kulmar, but it will take a while for these to truly be mainstream.

“As time goes on, customers will decide if it’s more for a novelty factor or [if] it’s fixing a fundamental issue in purchase behaviour. If it can help your customers with their purchase, then it makes sense,” she says.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is the lead reporter at StartupSmart.

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