Innovation of the Week: Pokémon Go inspires new approach to buying and selling furniture online | Crain's Baltimore

Innovation of the Week: Pokémon Go inspires new approach to buying and selling furniture online

Inspiration can arise from surprising sources—and can lead to equally astonishing destinations.

For example, take Gregg Brockway, executive chairman and co-founder of the Internet consignment marketplace startup Chairish. Brockway has devised a new way to buy and sell home furnishings online that leverages augmented reality (AR) technology.

But despite a long and accomplished career in the technology field, Brockway didn’t get this idea from his professional experience. Instead, this innovation originated much closer to home.

“The inspiration for this was watching my kids play Pokémon Go and seeing how they made it super simple to use augmented reality to blend gaming on the phone with what you see out in real world,” Brockway said in an interview. “And that’s exactly what our new app does.”

Chairish’s new app, which became available this week, uses AR to show a prospective buyer exactly how a piece of furniture, décor or art will look in their home. For example, someone can search up a chandelier on the site, and then press a button on the mobile app that says, “View in My Space.” The app then uses the camera on the smartphone to display an image of the chandelier superimposed on the buyer’s room.

“In this way, you can get an immediate sense of how that piece looks in your space, Brockway said. “It’s one thing when you see pretty images on a page or a mobile app, but until you see how it actually fits in with your other stuff—stylistically, color-wise, size-wise and all that—you don’t really know if it’s the right fit.”

Augmented reality market gains strength

San Francisco-based Chairish’s creative use of AR technology represents just the latest development in the fast-growing augmented reality market.

The arrival of the mobile video game phenomenon Pokémon Go in 2016 sounded the starting gun for the AR market and served as a demonstration of a successful implementation of the technology. With this success in the books, worldwide revenues for the combined AR and virtual reality markets are set to explode to more $162 billion in 2020, up from about $5 billion in 2016, predicts International Data Corp.

Shopping will be particularly fertile ground for AR, with 100 million consumers expected to shop using augmented reality by 2020, according to Gartner Inc.

Furnishing technology

Brockway believes AR technology can help the online furniture marketplace business to achieve its so-far unrealized potential. He estimates the U.S. home furniture and décor amounts to a massive total of $270 billion—but online sales account for only 10 percent of that total.

“(Home furnishings) has been one of the slowest industries to migrate online—in part because making a purchase for the home like this is a scary thing to do,” Brockway noted. “It’s not like buying a shirt, where if you don’t like it, you stick it in a closet and forget about it. When you buy a sofa, it’s out there and everyone can see it, so it tends to be a very considered purchase. The more information we can make available to help alleviate that anxiety, the more comfortable people are going to be about buying things online. The online segment is growing quickly and technology like augmented reality is a really important enabler of that trend.”

Brockway sees plenty of room for further innovation with Chairish’s AR technology, including in the areas of gamification and social media.

Chairish the thought

With Brockway, the topic of inspiration comes up a lot. Before Chairish, he was a co-founder of travel site and at travel itinerary app firm Triplit Inc.

Like the notion of using AR, the idea of Chairish arose from Brockway’s personal experience. Brockway and his wife—company president and co-founder, Anna Brockway—have moved multiple times. Each time they changed residences, the Brockways found they needed to sell some of their old home furnishings that didn’t quite fit their new abode. The couple soon learned that existing online services like Craigslist were inadequate for the task of selling home furnishings.

The couple then decided to tackle the issue by establishing their own online marketplace, resulting in their co-founding of Chairish.

With AR-based shopping set to play a major role in future consumer activity, services like that provided by Chairish are paving the way to the future of buying and selling online.

March 8, 2017 - 11:38am