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[15 comments]

Science fiction tech helps Lowe's customers with remodels

June 23, 2014

Lowe's recently introduced The Lowe's Holoroom, a simulator that applies 3-D and augmented reality technologies to provide homeowners "an intuitive, immersive experience in the room of their dreams."

In the 20-foot by 20-foot room, customers simulate renovation projects. Floors and paint colors can be swapped out as well as furniture or cabinets with a swipe on an iPad. Customers then enter the Holoroom to experience a 3-D view of the room. A take-home printout allows customers to view a 3-D model of their room at home, and share the model with family and friends, by downloading a free app.

On the practical level, the Holoroom helps homeowners brainstorm renovation ideas. The project, according to Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, also acknowledges that, "For many homeowners, the struggle to visualize a completed home improvement project or to share that vision with others can stop a project in its tracks."

[Image: Lowe's Holoroom]

Speaking to CNN, Mr. Nel noted that renovation projects often lead to squabbles between spouses over challenges visualizing colors and other details. He added, "We joked around that the name of this is the 'marriage saver'."

The Holoroom is the first concept to come from Lowe's Innovation Labs, a group designed to work with start-ups, universities, specialized professionals and other companies to come up with breakthrough consumer-facing technologies.

The Holoroom will be introduced in select Toronto stores in 2014 with a focus on bathroom remodeling. Additional product categories and rooms will be added over the next 12 to 18 months. No U.S. rollout is yet planned.

With a similar goal, Snapshop Showroom, an app pioneered by IKEA but now used by hundreds of retailers, allows customers to superimpose images of products they desire over their home interiors. Last year, IKEA upgraded its app to enable customers to scan select pages of its printed catalog with their smartphone or tablet to visualize how items may appear in their home.

Other augmented reality applications being tested at retail include letting shoppers see how clothes or cosmetics look on themselves via a 3-D screen, removing the need to physically try the products on.

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:LOW]

Discussion Questions:

How appealing will The Lowe's Holoroom be to homeowners? Do you see such a use of augmented reality extending itself to other demonstration purposes for retailers?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Do you see broad or more limited applications around the use of augmented reality at retail?

Comments:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a holographic picture is going to be worth a lot of money. If this technology truly works it will have a major impact on consumer buying habits.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

It is a reason to go to a brick-and-mortar store versus doing everything online.

The area where this technology could really increase sales is in apparel.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

If done well, 3-D room visualization could become a significant differentiator for Lowe's. Consumers are often challenged at imagining and visualizing what a remodeled or repainted space will look like. Anything that removes this barrier to decision making and spurs home improvement investment could be a great win for Lowe's.

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Jeff Hall, President, Second To None

I think it's a slam dunk, provided the user interface isn't clunky. The technology gets better every day. Rooms are fairly easy—they tend to be boxy, with straight lines in them. I'm not sure how long it will take to bring it to the human form, though. The face and clothing examples I've seen still have a ways to go.

But the driving force should always be; is it easy and intuitive to use? If not, then try again.

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Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Three-dimensionality will be a cornerstone of future media.

We are very visual creatures, and as 3-D continues to make inroads in everything from entertainment to desktop printing, there's no logical reason to believe that people won't accept these kinds of technologies.

Most people aren't very good at visualization which, I suspect, leads to a great deal of disappointment in the DIY industry. The Holoroom is clearly a step forward.

And, it isn't particularly new. Procter & Gamble, for example, has been using a similar technology for years to help retailers "visualize" the impact of things like changes in category management strategies.

For food retailers, a modified version of this technology could yield feedback on proposed in-store design changes. For other retailers, as in the Lowe's example, the applications may have a more direct consumer benefit.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

First, I'm always against technology for technology's sake. That said, this is an example of where many retailers need to put serious thought and energy. End cap displays, coordinated fixtures, and the like are nice, but they don't bring any engagement and excitement to retail. Sure, we always say that the people on the floor make a difference and that well-trained staff is golden, but since that doesn't happen much, retailers need to seriously consider how focused investments in engaging technologies can help them.

The Holoroom is nice, but I see some weaknesses in the specific approach Lowe's has chosen from a user experience and technology perspective, as well as some "yet another AR room system" weaknesses that I would stay away from, but at least they are giving it a go.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Who hasn't watched the endless home renovation shows on HGTV where a fixer-upper is virtually transformed in front of your eyes—walls moved by a mysterious power and furniture flying into place from nowhere—and desperately wanted someone to do that for their home?

However, what is described in this article is almost on the primary school level—the possibilities go WAY beyond seeing how you'd look as a blonde, what glasses look good on your face or superimposing a couch on a picture of your living room. That said, interesting that such innovations are happening in Canada with no plans to implement them in the US. We can add digital virtualization to credit card security as yet something else to be behind in.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

This is a great step for homeowners. I wish Lowe's would roll it out faster and not make consumers come into a store to use it. Augmented reality holds many positive uses for consumers. Whether it's visualizing how a piece of clothing would fit or finding items quickly in grocery stores, augmented reality will gradually become commonplace in stores and on mobile devices.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Holographics and augmented reality will flood both brick-and-mortar and online retail in the coming years. Think of it as "filling in the blanks" of the real world today with "what could be soon," whether in a home remodel or in the more personal space of clothing. How about, how will THIS fit into our next party?

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Herb Sorensen, Ph.D., Scientific Advisor TNS Global Retail & Shopper, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

I can see the use in more retail environments, but I cannot see where retail has—or will—spend the money necessary to bring it to the stores.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Lowe's Innovation labs and their work with Sci Futures are worthy of note as well. I'd watch them for insights around how to staff a lab and manage technology development, licensing and partnering.

Now to riff off of this: Facebook and the Occulus Rift will no doubt be in this mix as well, especially since FB will enable social design.

If you don't have your own 3D headset, Home Depot (say) can Drone over one VR Headset when needed and the shopper and their friends and perhaps on-demand contract interior designers can help you. Perhaps they can augment your simulations using pinned Pinterest favorites.

Having your house or rooms in digital form can also help reduce maintenance or repair costs by providing plumbers/electricians etc, with a digital view. I guess that might mean that future homes will be sold with digital and highly attributed blueprints - or perhaps you can have drones photograph the interior and exterior of your house - that would cut down the costs of digitizing.

All this is much more interesting than unjamming my printer, which is the problem in my reality this morning ... argh!

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

This is amazing technology. Except it doesn't/won't work. There are other programs like this in home furnishings. We've learned that the reality is customers won't stand in a showroom playing with a program like this. It's not how customers are wired.

It may be more effective when used at home on the internet.

Home furnishing is tactile. Customers want to see, touch and feel. The existence of the program may amuse customers. But I doubt it will sell them.

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Christopher P. Ramey, President, Affluent Insights

Very interesting innovation for retailers who deal in home decor and renovation products. Installing Holorooms may be overkill, however, since I imagine the same could be accomplished with several 3D headsets (one for the sales consultant and one each for the happy buying couple), linked to a rather powerful in-store workstation.

The hard work lies in rendering each simulation with enough detail to be convincing. For a kitchen reno, you might need room dimensions, present colors, images of the present cabinets and appliances, etc. Besides the 3D CAD/CAM or VR engine, the retailer would need a pretty definitive database of elements - paint colors, wall paper patterns, counter materials, cabinet styles, appliances, lighting, flooring, etc. Since those assortments change frequently, it would take some doing to keep current.

So there's a cost-benefit analysis to be done here, i think. For planning a whole room project and printing out elevations, it may well be worth the work for both retailer and customer. For selecting a paint color, not so much.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

It is an attractive idea, helping homeowners visualize renovation projects. Reduces many of the"what ifs" and can move consumers closer to buy. A great way to introduce the products and services offered to support a project. If it is accessible, not too much waiting and staff available for questions, this can be a solid step to build a differentiated, personalized service.

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Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

This is an innovative concept, and seems to be a pretty good idea by Lowe's. Assuming the quality of the display is high, it will really come down to a matter of content, execution and support by Lowe's. All in all, kudos to Lowe's for a good use of technology to help shoppers visualize their options, and lower their risk in purchasing.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

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