When you think “IKEA” the first thing that comes to mind may not be “snazzy furniture” and more “LEGO from hell”, as the company’s “ready-to-assemble” products have garnered a reputation as a producer of fiendish puzzles disguised as book shelving and coffee tables.
Now the company is using VR technology to let us tour an IKEA store without ever having to leave the home. Unfortunately they still haven’t figured out how to replicate their meatballs in the virtual world.
Shopping for a Byte
The IKEA VR store exists as a supplementary system to the already-established IKEA online store. It’s meant to solve an interesting problem. You see, when you actually go to a physical IKEA store you can see the furniture, get a feel for it’s size and appearance and generally know what it will look like in your own place.
The thing is, retail shopping is becoming less and less popular and browsing a site, even with good pictures, simply doesn’t do the same job that visiting the store does. So it actually makes sense to allow VR tours of a virtual store.
Of course, it’s possible to do such a tour rendered on a computer screen, but one thing you cannot do is give someone an accurate idea of the shape and size of an object. That’s something good VR has over other media.
It seems IKEA is not the only retailer sniffing the online shift that’s happening everywhere good internet connections are sold. Lowes is doing the same thing and on the whole VR and AR are finding plenty of use cases in the retail industry.
One can hardly accuse IKEA of suddenly jumping on the VR bandwagon though, since the company has been experimenting with VR technology for a while now. In 2016 we saw their VR Kitchen Experience.
That VR experience was launched on none other than Valve’s Steam platform, where most of the best (and worst) VR experiences can be found. In IKEA’s VR kitchen you can don an HTC Vive and explore a kitchen made with IKEA bits and pieces.
It was quite a slick production and used the premium Unreal 4 engine to power the visuals. There were some pretty clever features too, such as the ability to shrink yourself down to the size of a child in order to understand safety issues from that perspective.
It seems that the lessons learned in that initial experiment are being applied to this expansive retail experience. It may very well be the sign of things to come when it relates to product categories that are difficult to sell on a web page. If actual floorspace is becoming untenable then IKEA and its ilk are paving the way for virtual square footage you can traverse in your own home.