Chairish, Inc. is the latest retailer that has jumped into the augmented reality (AR) craze, launching an AR feature in its iPhone and iPad apps that lets buyers visualize its products in their home. In an exclusive Q&A with Retail TouchPoints, Gregg Brockway, the Co-Founder and newly named CEO of Chairish, Inc., shares:
How the company’s brands enhance the shopping experience with AR technology;
What AR means for online furniture shopping;
Why Pokémon Go was vital to jumpstarting the decision-making process;
How outstanding mobile offerings must differ from online offerings; and
The three brands that inspire his business creativity the most.
Chairish, Inc. the parent company of Chairish, an online marketplace for vintage furniture, art and decor and The Decorative Arts Society (DECASO), an invite-only online platform for modernist, antique and art dealers, also has secured an $8 million funding round designed to allow both brands to invest in regional expansion, brand awareness and product innovation, which extends to the AR feature.
RTP: What are you aiming to accomplish by adding AR to the Chairish and DECASO brands?
Brockway: The home furniture and décor industry is often an unappreciated e-Commerce category. The market is $270 billion, but only about 10% of that is sold online today, and it is one of the least penetrated in terms of percent of sales online.
Part of that is that it’s intimidating to buy furniture online. You don’t really know how it’s going to fit into your space. I’m a big fan of the idea that technology can help solve that problem. One of the barriers to purchasing online is the confidence that what you’re buying will look good in your space. Augmented reality is a wonderful way to help eliminate that barrier.
With our new app, users will be able to shop just like they normally do. If you’re browsing pendant chandeliers and you see one that might work for you, you simply click the button “View In Your Space.” Up pops the iPhone’s camera, and you’ll be able to look at your room with the item overlaid on the screen. You can try this without having to incur the costs of shipping and actually returning products that don’t fit. After taking the picture, the image is saved to your camera roll and you can share it with others via email, messaging or social media.
RTP: What drove the Chairish team to bring AR into the fold?
Brockway: Pokémon Go was an eye-opener for me. I came across it through my kids and seeing the way they were having such a blast through the augmented game layer, I gave it a try. Not long in, it occurred to me: “Wow, this really works.” Before that, I tried on virtual reality headsets, and it’s just so much gear and specialized equipment. Frankly, it’s really hard to code in 3D.
But the magic of Pokémon Go was its super-simple interface, and it’s useful. The Chairish AR feature was very inspired by this app, except instead of Pokémon, we have chandeliers, desks, art and home décor.
Customer research also resonated with us. We asked a lot of people: “Why are you uncomfortable about buying furniture online?” It’s just an expensive purchase for most people, and it’s often so visible, big and bulky that it’s hard to just hide a sofa in your closet if it doesn’t fit. It fits the bill of a very considered purchase, and so our goal was to help give people the confidence that the products they’re buying are the right products. That’s the challenge of online retail in general — helping people get over that last-minute potential for buyer’s remorse.
RTP: How do you feel integration of AR into mobile will help your brands build better relationships with consumers and foster additional brand loyalty?
Brockway: For me, mobile is not just about doing exactly what you do online. Great mobile apps take advantage of the technology’s unique characteristics.
For example, location is relevant for us. Unlike the computer, it’s much easier for a phone to recognize exactly where you are and show you things that are close to it. Augmented reality is much easier to implement into a phone since they all have built-in cameras now. And you have to think through the lens of when people are likely to use their phones. Since it’s a small screen, people tend to jump in for shorter periods of time, whether waiting for a bus or during a car ride. These little interstitial windows are when mobile tends to have the opportunity to delight people.
All these things play into how we think about mobile as a relevant channel for us. Taking these factors into consideration, we hope that we’re creating a mobile app that is more engaging, delightful and captures attention to make them want to come back.
I also think personalization has the potential to be transformative for furniture and home décor. There’s such a long tail of brands and choices out there, and figuring out intuitively what people are looking for, and getting them the right product on page one versus page six, is part of how you delight people and increase conversions online and on the mobile phone.
RTP: How did you first get into the retail industry?
Brockway: 16 years ago, I was fortunate to be a co-founder of the travel site Hotwire. Those were early days for online travel as well as e-Commerce in general. We tried very hard to apply traditional retail concepts online. I continue to be fascinated with how traditional physical retail concepts can be re-imagined with technology to inspire people in a digital environment.
RTP: You recently became the new CEO at Chairish. What has that transition been like for you?
Brockway: I’ve been involved with Chairish as an active Chairman since starting the business with my wife and two other friends four years ago. Recently, the business has grown significantly. I had been spending most of my time in the office already, so we finally decided to make me an official member of the team and I even have a desk now.
RTP: Did you have any inspirations, whether it be mentors or companies you looked up to, that shaped the way you carry out your business today?
Brockway: I’m inspired every day by creative people and innovative brands. In terms of influencing Chairish, three come to mind:
- Patagonia stands out for building a lifestyle brand with a passionate following.
- Priceline is noteworthy for its relentless focus on execution, which has made them by far the most valuable company in the travel industry.
- Finally, I’m an Apple fanboy due to the team’s peerless ability to combine technology and design to consistently create amazing products.
RTP: What advice do you have for retailers aiming to succeed in today’s retail environment where every channel counts?
Brockway: Retail is in a perpetual state of transformation and no one can afford to stand still. At the same time, very few companies have the resources to support in-house experts for everything. I find it very helpful to stay personally curious, but at the same time seek out experts and partners in emerging areas of interest. An expert, whether it’s a consultant, a firm or just a friend, can dramatically shorten your learning cycle. While I’m happy to make mistakes and do so regularly, I’d rather learn from someone else’s experience so at least they can be new ones.