Imagine having the ability to show customers what the flooring they are eyeing will look like in their home before they buy. With visualizer tools, manufacturers are eliminating the guesswork and allowing retailers to do just that. From in store to online, visualizer tools are giving end users the opportunity to essentially try flooring before they buy. We checked in with manufactures to learn more about the technology behind these powerful design tools and how they are being used to enhance the customer experience.
Try Before You Buy In Store and Online
With visualizer tools, the age-old routine of potential customers taking samples home to see how flooring types, colors, textures and patterns will fair in their homes is becoming a thing of the past.
“For homeowners, flooring is a significant, long-term investment and we’ve found that they are driven to shop by color and the style, or look of a product,” said Jenne Ross, director of marketing for Karndean Designflooring. “Visualizers allow homeowners to ‘try before they buy’ and instills in them the confidence that they have made the right choice for their style.”
Among those in the industry that led the way in visualization technology, Shaw introduced its first visualizer tool to the market more than a decade ago.
“Providing meaningful tools to help the retailer inspire the consumer has always been a priority for Shaw,” said Misty Hodge, director of digital marketing, Shaw Floors. “In 2006, we launched an award-winning visualization tool called Try on a Floor which allowed the consumer to see their top flooring choices in a variety of settings, including our room scenes or in their own spaces. Learning from and expanding upon the great success of that tool, we are continuing to [be] innovative to stay in touch with—and deliver on—consumer expectations.”
Naturally, Shaw has expanded the tool’s technology and capabilities since its 2006 introduction. “Our virtual reality (VR) tool is currently available on ShawFloors.com and we are testing a beta version of our augmented reality (AR) platform with retailers and consumers,” said Hodge. “The ultimate goal is to help consumers see their options in a whole new way and empower them to move forward with confidence, knowing that Shaw is committed to being their partner on the entire journey.”
Starting as an offline tool offered on a CD-ROM, we’ve seen Karndean’s Floorstyle evolve to a tool that retailers and business managers routinely use on their tablets and mobile devices to demonstrate the manufacturer’s flooring on-site with customers.
“Our Floorstyle tool, which shows what our floors look like in pre-selected room scene photos, was first made available as an offline tool in the early 2000s via CD-ROM, the first of its kind in the U.S. luxury vinyl industry, and we integrated it into our website in 2012,” said Ross.
With many customers starting the search for new flooring from the comfort of their homes, online visualizer tools are further proving to be a helpful resource.
“Today, consumers like to do tremendous amount of research on their own at home, prior to walking into a showroom,” said Rupesh Shah, president of MS International (MSI). “The vast majority of this is done online. Visualizers are selling inspiration well before a consumer ever walks into a showroom.”
In response to this buying trend among consumers, both manufacturers and retail operations are providing visualization tools on their websites.
“Novalis operates three websites and has a specific room visualizer for each,” said John Wu, CEO of Novalis Innovative Flooring. “We believe it’s a useful tool to help customers see the appearance of the floor style they like in an actual setting. We have a variety of rooms and settings represented on each and are adding constantly.”
In fact, according to Gary Keeble, director of marketing, Metroflor Corporation, visualizers on flooring websites are no longer just a nice addition to the buying process, they are an expectation and can even make or break the sale.
“Visualizers are now an expectation of consumers when they visit a flooring website,” said Keeble. “If your website doesn’t have a visualizer, the consumer is likely to move on to other websites that offer visualization tools. You should consider that for most consumers, a flooring purchase is a significant investment in their home. It’s a bit of a leap of faith from a style and design standpoint, since most residential consumers are not professional interior designers. Seeing it in a room with your wall colors in a similar design style gives the consumer confidence in their flooring choice.”
Often conducting these searches at home or on the go from the palms of their hands using tablets and smartphones, mobile responsive websites and visualization tools are a must for end users.
“Metroflor’s FLOR Visualizer is mobile responsive as are our website and app,” said Keeble. “Mobile devices are the primary means that people use to access the internet, so it’s always a priority for us that our digital platforms are responsive to mobile devices.”
As MSI continues to expand the technology of its visualization tools, making them mobile responsive has been one of the most beneficial updates to date, says Shah. “MSI introduced its first kitchen visualizer in 2013. Since that time, we have updated and expanded our visualizers from a technology, product, and design perspective. From a technology perspective, the biggest change we made was to make the visualizer mobile friendly, responsive and faster. With mobile/tablet at approximately 50% of traffic, this was a no-brainer.”
Advancements in Technology
As technology advanced dramatically, consumer acceptance was trailing slightly behind, but that's no longer the case, says Hodge. According to Hodge, today, technology is so pervasive and consumer-friendly that we find the gap in capability and acceptance is becoming more minimal.
“Technology has a monumental impact on the overall shopping experience, from researching a brand online to finding a nearby retailer,” said Ross. “As a brand, we need to be able to adapt our visualizers to match the ever-evolving technology to keep up with where our customers are researching and making critical decisions. These tools enhance the overall shopping experience for customers by expanding the view of the product to larger than the sample boards they view in-store.”
For Novalis, as technology costs have decreased, capabilities for its visualizer tools have subsequently increased. “One of the key improvements has been the realism that the flooring is rendered in perspective, with realistic light and shadow and under furniture, etc.,” said Wu. “If you didn’t know better, you’d believe it’s the actual floor in the photo, not a computer image. Earlier visualizers couldn’t do that so well, or they were extremely expensive.”
Sparing no costs, Mohawk is hard at work developing Visual Interactive Studio (VIS), a next generation visualization tool for the A&D community.
“Last NeoCon we realized we wanted to focus on the A&D community to understand their specifications through visualization and how they could be fully immersed in that,” said Jason Surratt, senior director of customer design and development at Mohawk. “And we started going down the road and we felt the latest technology that could provide that was virtual reality. We brought on a new director of design technology, Framarz Mistry, who worked with a company called Epic Games and built a virtual VR environment on a real gaming platform. It provides the most photo realistic, high-definition quality experience that you can see and we ae excited to be the first flooring manufacturer to have that immersive experience.”
According to Surratt, being able to offer this immersive technology is well worth the company’s investment in both time and cost. “Just thinking about the overall cost and time in the hospitality scene for mock ups we realized that we could provide something that was realistic enough in an ER environment that would be well worth the investment and it would allow us to build that relationship with the design community to where they would want to work and focus with us because we could help them save time.”
The manufacturer plans to first deploy VIS to all of its showrooms, Light Lab and the showroom at its Glasgow, Va., carpet tile facility. “So, any of the large major metro markets that have a normal showroom will have the VR available for use to the design community,” said Surratt. “We also have a mobile version for strategic accounts that we can bring to the customer and set up there so that they can view and utilize the technology for their specifications.”
Visualizer technology and tools have come a long way from where they started. From AR’s ability to produce 360-degree views, to the immersion and realism that VR delivers, these tools will continue to improve and enhance the buying and design experience.