As digital options grow, image library becomes essential – Furniture Today

HIGH POINT — Google released a preview of ARCore, Apple releases its ARKit this month, and retailers from Rotman’s to Jerome’s to Wayfair offer AR apps, all evidence that an image library is now a crucial component to furniture retailing.

“Eighty percent of the people who are in the store have been to the website,” said Steven Rotman. Rotman is president, CEO and treasurer of his eponymous 175,000-square-foot store that has operated in Worcester, Mass., since 1971. “They’re all going to the website to get their information.”

The information shoppers seek is what each piece, each color and each fabric look like, and what it would look like in their homes. Ergo, having quality photos of the merchandise on the website is crucial.

It’s also a challenge, because manufacturers’ images, if there are any, are inconsistent, said Scott Perry, senior vice president of digital marketing, IT and omnichannel for Jerome’s Furniture, a chain of 14 stores in California with 900 employees.

“Sometimes you do get good photography on your products” from manufacturers, Perry said, “but it’s not going to be a consistent look and feel. Some have natural light, some not, some are yellowy, the floor or atmosphere the photo was taken in can vary, some just send you basic product shots.

“To get a consistent look and feel, you have to do it yourself.”

Quite a tall order: Perry estimated Jerome’s website has SKUs from 50 to 100 manufacturers located in Asia and the Americas.

“We do all of our own photography in house,” Perry said, “including taking multiple angle shots to create 3D models in a quality way. We don’t rely on the manufacturer.”

The quality of the models must be high enough to be viewed with Jerome’s augmented reality (AR) app. AR overlays an image onto the view of a room provided by a camera. Furniture shoppers use AR smartphone apps to overlay furniture images onto the view of rooms provided by their phone’s camera.

Jerome’s AR app identifies the lines in the room and projects the scale of the furniture “within about 5% accuracy,” Perry said. “Not perfect but good enough to give a representation what it’s going to look like in the room, to make an informed decision.”

And smaller retailers?

“I think you have to be of a certain size to absorb that expense,” Perry said of equipment, lighting and the physical space of a studio. “There is a barrier of entry there. I think that a smaller retailer would have to outsource that.”

Rotman had a different opinion, particularly since his store doesn’t offer an AR app, yet. “Everybody developing websites should understand that AR is something that, (within) six months to a year, they will have to (make) available,” he added.

Rotman’s employs an in-house photographer full time and a studio with a blue screen. “Most stores should have that. Today you have to take six or seven different angles.”

Rotman said a basic image library can be done with about 600 square feet of space, a computer graphics pro, and a $15,000 to $20,000 investment: $2,000-$3,000 for a camera, $7,000-$10,000 for lighting and a part-time photographer and computer graphics pro.

“If you’re a $5 million store, you tie-in with two or three other stores, and you say, ‘Let’s work together,’” Rotman said.

Having images online is so crucial and augmented reality so imminent, he added, small retailers “have got to work as a team. You don’t do it alone. You need to work together in order to lower your costs.”

Is having these images online effective?

“When we chat with a customer on the website, on average we close 25%,” Rotman said. “On the floor, too, but it’s mainly because we have specialists.”

Rotman cautions retailers not to rely solely on great images to make the sale. “The website’s not going to save them if they don’t do due diligence for warehousing, delivery, cleanliness, lighting, the whole experience.”

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