Augmented reality allows shoppers to see how furniture will look in their homes

- Williams-Sonoma, Inc. recently announced its acquiring a San Jose-based start-up to expand its high-tech shopping experience.

Furniture shopping has entered a new chapter with what's called "augmented reality," as seen in a Pottery Barn promotional video.

San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma, Inc. which owns companies including Pottery Barn and West Elm, last Thursday announced it's acquiring Outward, Inc.

The San Jose-based augmented reality company is being acquired for $112 million.

Its technology allows customers to take a living room for example, and try out multiple couches from their home using a smart phone.

"You will be able to imagine what products look like in your home in your setting while standing in your living room. To us we think that's a game-changer," said Felix Carbullido, Chief Marketing Officer for Williams-Sonoma.

Williams-Sonoma has worked with Outward on its Pottery Barn 3D app where you can super-impose digital images of furniture into your home and change the color with a few swipes on your cell phone.

But the company now expects to expand across its 8 brands.

The company says it is critical for the online shopping experience, with 53% of its total revenue coming from online.

"It's something we think is really taking off in terms of its potential of transforming the shopping experience in retail, particularly in the home space," said Sameer Hassan, Senior Vice President of Digital Technology for Williams-Sonoma.

Other companies including Wayfair and Ikea already use augmented technology.

"You're going to have a billion devices that can see that really soon because any cell phone can become an augmented reality device," said Max Sims, who teaches about virtual and augmented reality at Santa Clara University.

Sims says thanks to recent Apple and Google developments, A-R technology is about to be a lot more accessible, although he points out one big drawback when shopping.

"No feel for anything. You don't know if that chair is comfortable if the vase is bigger than you thought maybe," said Sims.

Sims thinks it will mean more people will shop from home, while Williams-Sonoma expects it will cut down on furniture returns.
 

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