As manufacturers in every field contemplate ways to meet the demands of today’s changing retail landscape, Natuzzi is leading the vanguard. This month, the legendary name in Italian furniture has launched the first Natuzzi Augmented Store, outfitting their Madison Avenue flagship with a state-of-the-art combination of mixed reality solutions—a move that promises to usher in a new era of advanced, white-glove customer service, and upend the path to purchase.
Realized in collaboration with Microsoft and Hevolus Innovation, The Natuzzi Augmented Store deploys the latest from this burgeoning field of technology to provide unfettered virtual access to the brand’s full catalog of products, as well as their complete array of available colors, configurations, sizes, finishes, and materials.
At the converted Madison Ave location, that access comes via a range of cutting-edge tools at customers’ disposal, representing various degrees of blending between the real and virtual worlds.
Using the store’s augmented reality capabilities, for example, they can don Hevolus’ game-changing HoloLens 2 headset to examine holographic scaled models. The feature gives them a birds’ eye view of their very own space—which Natuzzi can begin rendering in three dimensions before they even step foot in the store.
Furthermore, through a transportive virtual reality apparatus, customers become fully immersed in their space—launched into it as if by parachute, and able to explore at will. The result is a sense of place and atmosphere that would have been impossible to achieve with traditional methods tethered to the physical world.
In both contexts, with the help of a system operator, customers are able to experiment with pieces and placement freely–mixing and matching to determine what works, and what doesn’t, and watching the changes unfold before their very eyes. Before leaving, they receive a 360° rendering which they can explore on their phones or using a VR headset, and take home to their families.
Individually—and even more so in combination—these mixed reality tools enable customers to visualize their ideal spaces with unprecedented accuracy. But beyond that physical verisimilitude, there’s also a psychological element. “We let [customers] walk their homes virtually, tapping into the emotional side wherein they really feel that ‘yes, I want to buy,’ says Natuzzi Creative Director Pasquale Junior Natuzzi. “We’re giving them a sense of their ideal home in a way that makes them fall in love.” Natuzzi predicts that that deeper level of engagement will help reduce the brand’s closing ratio by at least one third.
Using the new technology together with traditional methods, the brand also hopes to ultimately reduce the amount of inventory carried at each location: The ability to peruse product options–like material and color–virtually will mean that stores can keep fewer floor samples. By the same token, they’ll also require less square footage, thereby minimizing the financial and spatial investments necessary to establish an outlet. This, Natuzzi predicts, will facilitate expansion into new geographic areas—especially downtown settings, where real estate is typically more constrained.
While the Augmented Store represents a massive step forward for the brand, it’s also a logical extension of past initiatives by Natuzzi, an early pioneer and trailblazer in marrying furniture with technology. They were among the first to roll out sofas with integrated audio systems, for example. And last year, they introduced a voice-controlled “smart” sofa, imbued with AI and capable of interacting with other smart devices. Continuing on the same trajectory, Natuzzi plans to extend the Augmented Store concept to the rest of their retail network by 2020.
“Providing a unique customer experience is critical in today’s competitive retail environment,” says Shelley Bransten, Corporate Vice President, Retail and Consumer Goods Industries, Microsoft. “At the same time, retailers are looking for ways to reimagine their physical and maximize in-store sales, Natuzzi’s new augmented store is a perfect example of how retailers can leverage mixed reality environments with Microsoft HoloLens to reimagine the in-store experience.”
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