The future of retail: This furniture store wants you to browse sofas and beds in augmented reality

Shoppers can now digitally browse catalogue, by superimposing holograms of furniture onto 3D versions of their living room, using a HoloLens 2 headset.

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Italian luxury furniture brand Natuzzi is speeding up the high street's digital transformation by allowing London shoppers to browse for sofas, chairs and beds – in the form of holograms overlaid onto 3D renderings of their own living rooms, while wearing a Microsoft HoloLens 2 headset.

The retailer's Tottenham Court Road shop now has a dedicated space for visitors to come in and try on the headset. This sends them all the way to what the brand calls "an endless virtual showroom" where they can, in theory, browse through the catalogue of digital twins for every single piece of furniture created by Natuzzi designers. 

Before the shopper comes into the store, Natuzzi's interior designers will have done some homework and built a vision of their customer's home through photographs and measurements. 

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Using Natuzzi's configuration tools and product library, they will then have come up with an accurate 3D rendering of the shopper's living room walls, ceilings, floors, windows, and even personal decor. 

"We'll let them walk their home virtually," said Pasquale Junior Natuzzi, creative director and stylist at Natuzzi. "They won't need to walk through aisles of similar products – instead they can have a fun and experiential tour of their own home with a selection of Natuzzi furniture."

In other words, this signs the end of the times when furniture shopping meant keeping mental notes of imprecise measurements, or imagining what sofa colours would go with a pastel wallpaper. 

This can now all be done virtually while wearing the headset, as customers create objects in their digital living room and play around with colours and textures before deciding on their final purchase. 

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Customers create objects in their digital living room and play around with colors and textures before deciding on their final purchase.

Image: Natuzzi

According to Natuzzi, the technology could reduce the closing ratio – that is, the amount of successful sales compared to the number of presentations – by at least one third.

The London branch is the second store to implement the technology, after Natuzzi New York started using augmented reality last August, with positive feedback from customers, said the brand's creative director. The firm plans to start rolling HoloLens out globally by 2020.

It is part of a three-way partnership that includes Microsoft and B2B company Hevolus, which specialises in the development of innovative business models, particularly in the retail industry. 

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Natuzzi came to Hevolus with the intention of improving customer experience in the context of an increasingly competitive landscape for retail, and especially on the high street. 

"Consumers are bombarded with brand messaging through all sorts of online and physical channels," said Natuzzi, "so it's important that we find unique ways to present our products and value our proposition to customers."

It's not just about improving the brand's image: using virtual avatars to let clients browse its catalogue will also impact Natuzzi's inventory. If holograms replace physical furniture, indeed, it won't be necessary to keep large amounts of stock anymore.

This in turn could let the brand open stores in much smaller buildings – Natuzzi said he is already looking to expand into downtown areas where spaces could not previously have hosted a classic Natuzzi store format.