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Innovation

The Blue Space opens virtual reality showroom

A new entrant in Australia’s bathroom, kitchen and laundry category, The Blue Space sells high-end sinks, baths, tiles and other products through a showroom in the Seven Hills suburb of Sydney and online.

Last November, the retailer launched a new feature, which lets customers design a 3D model of their bathroom, kitchen or laundry and explore it in virtual reality.

Internet Retailing spoke with The Blue Space’s managing director Josh Mammoliti about the virtual reality experience and the challenges of selling bathroom products online.

Heather McIlvaine: Was it always your intention to make virtual reality a core part of The Blue Space offering?

Josh Mammoliti: When it comes to building a bathroom, the decision-making process can be quite hard because people are visiting countless showrooms trying to piece it all together. And it’s difficult to imagine what the bathroom’s going to look like because a lot of showrooms have a big wall of basins, then taps somewhere else.

I had a very good handle on what these difficulties were when we launched, but it wasn’t until the technology became available that I thought you could use virtual reality [to overcome them].

When the HTC Vive came out, I tried walking around and it’s really fast and clear. That’s when I thought, ‘Yep, it’s going to be the future.’

HM: Where does the 3D modelling come into the picture?

JM: We partnered with InSitu, which has its own 2D and 3D platform. The customer can download it from our website for free and they basically have an interface where they can drag and move the walls to the right size and insert our products onto the plans.

It’s all cloud-based, so they can share the bathroom with us and we can give them feedback on it. And there’s a buy now button that’s integrated with our website, so all the products will go right into their shopping cart with one click.

HM: Did The Blue Space have to create 3D models of all its products for this platform?

JM: The InSitu guys built all the models off images provided by the suppliers. We are gradually working our way up to having around 1,000 products available, which is roughly the amount on our website at any given time, but it takes a bit of time.

HM: Once customers have a 3D model of their bathroom, how do they view it in virtual reality? 

JM: Right now, they have to send their 3D model to us and come into our Seven Hills showroom to do the VR component. They can technically do it at home, but it’s very device specific and they need certain computer requirements. Over time, that will get easier.

So when they come into the showroom, we have the HTC headset and handsets with haptic sensors that allow them to touch and feel the product.  The headset also has infrafred sensors, so it can track their movement. So they can actually walk around as if they’re inside the bathroom because it uses lifelike dimensions that are 99 per cent accurate. A lot of people actaully sit in the bath to see if it fits.

HM: What do you think virtual reality adds to your offering? 

JM: I think VR reinforces the online business model for us. It’s one of the biggest things we can do to take away the customer’s fear. It’s more than they would get in a traditional showroom, although it’s also part of our showroom strategy.

We’re planning to set up pop-up spaces around the country where we’ll bring people in, design their bathroom for them, let them experience it in VR, and then hopefully buy off the back of that.

The goal is to really increase the amount of sales we get because we’re reducing the fear factor.

This interview was lightly edited and condensed.

 

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