Augmented Reality as Digital Sales Support

Finding the right furniture

Buying furniture can be a complex and time-consuming affair at times. At best, the new furniture should harmonize with existing furnishings and at the same time fit in architecturally and with the spatial conditions. It is not rare that disillusionment comes after the delivery: It doesn’t match!

The things that apply to a private home have to be implemented on a much larger scale in the food services and hotel business. Here, dining areas have to be arranged in such a way that the greatest number of guests can be placed at a comfortable distance from each other. There must be enough walkways, and hotel rooms must be equipped with all amenities as efficiently as possible. Unless you have engaged an interior decorator, it is often difficult to imagine how pieces of furniture will look in your own premises, whether they will go with the other furnishings, or if the number and size are reasonable in the first place.

A hotel and food services wholesaler approached Infinity Reply and presented exactly this problem. Since the company has customers around the world, some customers have to travel a long way to Germany to select and combine products and furniture in the central showroom, or go through the very extensive product catalog at their location together with a sales employee in order to select the appropriate pieces. Therefore, there was a longstanding desire expressed from all sides for simplification of the sales process or alternatively for customer service via digitization.

Augmented or Virtual Reality?

Introductory consultation sessions with the extended reality and 3D visualization experts of Infinity Reply were followed by a general evaluation of augmented and virtual reality scenarios as digital support options. It quickly became clear that an AR app would provide the greatest added value for this field of application due to the easy and intuitive operation. The handling of such an app is extremely flexible, because the sales staff do not have to take much equipment to the customer: a normal tablet PC is sufficient. Since the customer’s sales staff were already equipped with such devices, no investments were necessary in this project to have the right hardware.

The specialists from Infinity Replay together with the customer developed a concept that gave the sales employee the possibility to suggest and configure products for interested customers directly in their premises, and also visualize them in the real environment as a digital representation in photo-realistic quality and the original size. In most cases, this made a trip to the showroom unnecessary.

Virtualization of the analog product world

One of the biggest challenges in this project was the digitization of the products. The extensive product range of the customer included more than 40,000 items for which there had not been any digital data or even CAD models so far. Therefore, a variety of approaches to virtualize the products by means of 3D scanning methods had to be evaluated first. In addition to manual modeling, part of the project was also to find automatic or at least semiautomatic solutions to make it possible to quickly generate a high-quality 3D model of the individual products. Different 3D scanning methods were evaluated and test scans carried out for this.

It was decided to virtualize a manageable number of objects to be displayed at first: a series of selected table-chair-bench combinations. These products were modeled classically and realistically based on reference pictures. In further, planned project phases, the findings of the 3D scanning evaluation will be incorporated in the general data preparation process to be able to then automate the process to the greatest possible extent.

Technical implementation

The AR app was developed on the basis of the Apple ARKit. The solution provides technical features like the detection of depth information, a feature that was needed to develop the app, but is currently not yet possible with all tracking technologies. Unity 3D gaming technology was used for preparation of the photo-realistic 3D model. It is a game engine that is very well suited for the realization of AR applications. A linear user interface was developed for navigation in the app, which enabled intuitive use. Finally, an easy-to-use approach as well as a certain “wow effect” were particularly important to the customer.

The final, prepared models were implemented in the app and follow the configuration logic that only reasonable and simultaneously available chair-table-bench combinations can be created and displayed. Therefore, for example, a bar table can only be combined into a dining room set with bar stools. To make it as easy as possible for users to place and adapt the furniture, movement and rotation of the dining room sets is based on standard gestures, which are known from the smartphone world.

A look into the future

Following a successfully completed first project phase, the app developed by Infinity Reply was handed over to the IT department head and selected sales employees of the customer and made available via the Apple App Store as well as Google Play Store.

The app is currently in a test phase that will last several months, and is being tested by the sales employees in everyday use with customers. Further stages of development will be decided on the basis of this test phase. This could mean linking the sales app to the customer’s existing web shop, but also expanding the displayable product portfolio, which would then also allow the table to be virtually set with dishes, cutlery and glasses. That way, hotel and restaurant owners will be able to configure and plan their desired configuration with more and more detail on-site, without having to make a trip to the wholesaler. This saves not only time and money, but also protects the environment and reduces unnecessary product returns.