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How to boost the Furniture retail business through visual AI

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I need a change of scenery! How many of us have looked around our homes during lockdown and wished to shake things up a bit? Quite a few it turns out. All the time spent indoors has created such a focus on people’s homes that the furniture and home furnishings market is having a better than expected year. 

Ryan Gee of Bank of America Securities notes that “overall home furnishing market surging” is supporting the share prices of many listed home furnishing companies, an industry that is worth between 600-650 billion dollars according to several analysts. The effects of COVID-19 have been global in scale and the enforced time at home has pushed even more consumers to enjoy and become comfortable with online shopping. The adoption of these new shopping habits has forever changed the retail landscape. More and more customers will continue to embrace the convenience and ease of shopping online, and this is as true for furniture and home furnishings as it is for books. 

However, if furniture and home furnishings online sales are booming, how can customers connect with your products on offer? The throw pillow they really like, or the art on their walls that might need to be matched to the perfect sofa. The answer has been to embrace Visual AI

what visual AI technology is used?

Computer Vision, the core of Visual AI, has developed into a practical, commercial product and has only been available for the past three to five years. Any product built with Computer Vision is relatively fresh and creates a wow factor for customers. An AI Visual Search or Recommendations strategy will bring your company to the front of the competition. 

A few of the most powerful enterprises such as Haystack (Walmart’s home furnishing eCommerce site) have been developing and nurturing AI visual solutions during this period. Walmart Labs, the in-house development team of Walmart has been innovating in the furniture space since at least 2017, when they used a third-party technology. They quickly realized they needed to move faster and made a strategic purchase of a company called Jet, a Visual AI firm that now forms the core of their Visual AI team. 

Whether you use external providers or develop in-house, the current slate models and builds available are quite powerful. Visual AI has already exceeded human visual abilities in certain tasks such as recognizing and categorizing objects. The most recent, state-of-the-art model is called YOLO (You Only Look Once) and was initially introduced as the first object detection model that combined bounding box prediction and object classification into a single end to end differentiable network. This new tech leads to very interesting possibilities. 

yolo GIF by NETFLIX

Customer Experience is key

We inform all our partners that better customer experience is the core of all Visual AI solutions and our products are designed to amplify the experience. Shelley Huff, Vice President of Home, Walmart U.S. eCommerce and President of Hayneedle echoes this sentiment when she stated that Walmart is, “…continually focused on improving the customer experience.” Ms. Huff continues by stating that “…in terms of home furnishings. It requires, in many cases a large level of inspiration. If we look at how we can enable that shopping experience…and give them more confidence in their purchases and their ability to find products, Visual Search plays an incredible role.” We want to deliver the inspiration to help your customers achieve their aspirations. 

Holiday Shopping GIF by Walmart

How Will It Boost Satisfaction?

Each year, Pantone reveals its color for the year. Pantone’s Color of the Year pick for 2020 is Classic Blue. Denim, navy, and indigo are the dark neutral du jour for this year. “Blue is big right now. Blue, black, and grays are our core colors because they style so well with other colors,” says Oliver Rosen, co-owner of Los Angeles pillow and throw maker, Sugar Feather. How do you make sure your customers get to the blue though? Labelling thousands of products is time consuming and slow. With Visual AI, a search for Classic Blue will also bring up similar shades of blue – the denims and indigos – because the color is a feature of any image and with any good AI system, this feature is a core of the models information gathering. Your customers can be shown a greater range of shades of this year’s color and not be stuck with plain old “blue”. 

Pantone GIF by ABCasa

I like that!

Glossy magazines with luscious photos of to-die for interiors still grace the tables of many people and some of them have even moved online. Visual AI can now bridge the gap between what you see in the magazine and the store you love. Why not take a picture of a picture then? With Visual Search your customers can download a photo or take a snap of their favorite interior and match the furniture in their dream house with your collections. 

Online Magazine GIF by Mediamodifier

What Do I See?

The furniture and home furnishing industry is highly fragmented and contains multitudes of competitors. This is great for finding good quality products, but less good if you want to search for a chair to match the one that was bought five years ago from a defunct retailer! Pinterest has shown us one way that a Visual AI search can help create a good customer experience. With the shoppable pins, users of Pinterest can click on something they like and be shown many similar items to shop. In the same way, all good shoppable Visual AI solutions can be configured to allow a customer to upload a photo and be given the best match from among thousands of products. Your store experience becomes as familiar as a day with Pinterest, but Visual AI goes further. By harnessing the power of Visual AI, a customer service agent can use a customer’s photo and generate likely matches instantly. A phone call with an unhappy customer can turn into a happy ending with photos of possible replacements. 

interior design architecture GIF by ArchDaily

what Style do you want?

What is contemporary style? What about Scandinavian Modern or Gothic? Each stylist will have his or her own definition of a style and the creation of this style is an important human driven differentiator for any brand. However, the style creation process is a nightmare. Enormous pivot tables of cross-referencing and key words leave designers morose and your eCommerce team exasperated but humans harnessing AI can be a powerful tool to make this process much better. How might this work? In eCommerce stores, you might want to “complete the look”. This is often matching a throw pillow or a sofa to the style of a room but that style can be subjective. The SMART Visual AI platform can be configured to provide an automated human-driven style generator. The stylist chooses similar styles from among a range of products and once the model is trained with these new labels, presto! Your stylist has created a new style book that is immediately deployable across your site – expandable and changeable at any time. 

Threadless art design space frame GIF

Coming Soon to your home

The work on Visual AI is not yet done. There are still many new and exciting areas that are to be discovered. Visual Question Answering (VQA) is a new problem that combines NLP and Computer Vision techniques. The most common application is showing an image to a computer and asking a question about that image that the computer must answer. Your customer can suddenly have a full range of question and answers in a natural Q&A format. What is the best nested table to include in this room? Is the bed too big for this space? Watch for AI to improve rapidly in this space.

Visual AI has a wide range of applications, but the options in the furniture and home furnishings industry appear stronger and more natural than many industries. Creating style books, bridging the gap between home and store, ultimately generating greater customer satisfaction. Visual AI holds the housekey. 

Get in touch with our team today to understand how you can implement Visual AI to boost your business!

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