From Virtual to Reality

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Ten years ago the virtual reality (VR) concept would render images of cheesy 80’s Sci-Fi’s and nascent gaming technology, appearing more like a fantasy for technologists with little bearing in the real world.

That is, of course, until now. Today, VR is not so much creeping but rather leaping into the mainstream.

Only last year we saw Oculus, Samsung and Sony get seriously big on VR, keenly competing to achieve media share for their latest headsets and this trend shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

But, you may ask, can VR really have a tangible business impact in the KBB world? The answer is irrevocably yes, and for those retailers who aren’t already using it the (not so virtual) reality is that it really is no longer a case of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’…..

More in Store

For the large part, VR allows KBB retainers to create that all-important USP in what, with the dominance of e-commerce, has become a keenly competitive market.

Today’s abundance of online KBB retailers, many of which offer a fast delivery and cheap prices, mean it can be all too tempting for consumers to buy their kitchen or bathroom on the Internet from the comfort of their home.

This, in turn, has put increased pressure on traditional retailers to create a 4D Plus imagetangible differentiation to win business. This is clearly reflected in the latest Mintel report on the bathroom sector which concurs ‘Retailers need to build a wide suite of skills to service the complex requirements of a bathroom make-over – services will become increasingly sophisticated, with branded elements to add reassurance for shoppers.’1

Here, the remit then is about thinking outside the box and applying the use of the technology to a retail advantage: cue the VR revolution.

The integration of VR with design consultancy quite simply takes the customer experience to another level. Virtual Worlds’ 4D CAD technology, for example, delivers high quality, virtual reality and an interactive buying experience via a futuristic headset whereby users can realise a 4D simulation of physically being in their dream kitchen or bathroom design.

Sitting comfortably in their chair complete with an avatar (which is even matched with appearance) they can experience every socket, every stitch, each and every fine detail of their concept and how it may look and feel in real-time. Want to check how much space is between the island unit and the oven? Check. Extend drawers to ensure sufficient storage? Check. Operate functional fittings such as magic corner units? Check.

This digital transformation of blended reality experience with product design takes the ‘try before you buy’ concept to whole new level and it is a very powerful business tool.

From our experience, most consumers will struggle to grasp an overhead, 3D plan or flat render, however realistic it looks, yet our 4D experience negates this problem entirely by allowing designers to express their ideas in a precise way that their clients physically experience. It also enables installers to plan work with confidence, knowing the design will work as ‘real’ products have been tried out in the design.

4d KitchenThe result is the end of ‘buyer remorse’. Given that a new bathroom or kitchen is a huge investment for the average consumer, it is, of course, extremely important that they get it right. In this way, it effectively alleviates the fear factor associated to buying these big ticket items – and given the fact that two thirds2 (63%) of shoppers admit they don’t get the best experience online this makes for a very appealing proposition.

Testament to this, here at Virtual Worlds, our customers have reported an average 50 per cent increase in sales conversions since using our CAD technology – with some reporting a conversion rate of 80%.

Future Gazing 

While VR has certainly come a long way in recent years, it really is just beginning.

Having already launched the industry’s first 4D CAD software in 2016, here at Virtual Worlds we are all geared up for the launch of the next generation of product which will truly blur the lines between virtual and reality like never before. And we have lots more in the pipeline.

Indeed, while good customer service and expert design consultancy will always be the pinnacles of success in the KBB world, the blending lines of VR for consumer and enterprise use cannot be ignored. It is the future and what all retailers should be aspiring to in this age of digital transformation.

 Sources

1 http://store.mintel.com/bathrooms-and-bathroom-accessories-uk-august-2013

2 http://www.information-age.com/industry/uk-industry/123459020/two-thirds-shoppers-unhappy-online-customer-experience

Winner Of ‘SHOWROOM DESIGNER OF THE YEAR’ Award Announced

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The winning designer was Emma Knight of Elliotts Lymington Living Spaces

The winner of the inaugural ‘Sottini Showroom Designer of the Year’ competition has been announced – with the design by Emma Knight of Elliotts Lymington Living Spaces Showroom scooping the £2000 prize after being selected by a judging panel made up of leading industry names. The winning entry was commended for combining style and innovation with excellence and simplistic functionality in its design.

Luxury bathroom brand Sottini ran the competition to find the nation’s pride of showroom design, in partnership with Virtual Worlds, the UK’s leader in CAD technology for the KBB sector. Entrants had to submit their design proposals in a 3D CAD format, using a software package such as Virtual Worlds, to include all key elements of the bathroom and with an ethos on creating a showroom that was inspiring and innovative, but also realistic.

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Judges got to experience the designs in virtual reality using Virtual Worlds 4D Theatre
 It received a great response from the Designer community across the UK, with a final shortlist of 20 entries considered by judges. The judging panel was made up of industry experts from Barratt Homes, Potton Homes, Millwood Designer Homes, Colemore Tang and Conran Design, as well as Virtual Worlds, Ideal Standard and EKBB magazine. The judging took place at The Bathroom Showroom in London with the judges initially looking at the designs on paper before getting to experience the rooms in Virtual Worlds 4D Theatre software. The unique design presentation from Virtual Worlds allowed the judges to explore the rooms in virtual reality to fully appreciate the design, before finally choosing their winner.

Such was the quality of entries in fact, a further two entries received a highly commended accolade: Ben Mellor of Oakland’s (Leicester) and Dean Saoud-Easton of Just Add Water (Kings Cross, London).

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Winner, Emma Knight, with highly commended designers Ben Mellor of Oakland’s (left) and Dean Saoud-Easton of Just Add Water.

Steve Breen, Sottini Sales Director, comments:  “The aim of this competition was to reward and acknowledge the talents of the UK’s finest KBB designers who continue to go the extra mile when it comes to creating truly stunning showrooms which excite, entice and inspire customers.

“We received a fantastic response and I’d like to say thank you to everyone who entered and congratulate the winner, but also add that the standard of designs submitted was testament to the talent and hard work of the designers who dedicate thousands of hours to creating truly stunning showrooms destined to ‘wow’ customers – and in doing so demonstrated the multitude of combinations that our Sottini collection offers.”

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Virtual World’s MD Nathan Maclean presenting the award.

Nathan Maclean, managing director at Virtual Worlds, adds:  “We really do have some of the most hardworking, talented KBB designers here in the UK, so it is great to have an opportunity to give them the credit they deserve.”

Winning bathroom designer, Emma Knight, said: “I love doing what I do, so I am absolutely thrilled to have won this award and really enjoyed creating the design for the competition.

“The split levels allow the stylish products to stand out against a stunning back drop, as well as increasing the sense of space – I can imagine relaxing for hours in this bathroom!

“My manager, Andrew, gives me great support and I’ve learnt so much from him. Winning this award has given me inspiration and increased confidence to do more fabulous designs for our customers at Elliotts Living Spaces.”

Northern Heights for Virtual Worlds

Virtual Worlds is strengthening its presence in the market place yet again by adding a new regional sales executive to its busy team.

Matthew Froggatt has joined the firm, which develops market-leading 3D & 4D Design software for the KBB industry, to raise awareness of the product and drive sales in the business across the north of England.

IMG_0043 Matthew has six years’ experience working in the home improvement industry. He joins the team from Homebase in Bolton where he has been project managing, remodelling and helping with the designs and layouts for his customers’ homes.

Nathan MacLean, managing director at Virtual Worlds, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Matthew to the team. His work within the retail and KBB sector has given him a wealth of knowledge in the industry and he has an innate understanding about Virtual World’s and what we are about.

Matthew’s knowledge around technology and design will allow us to continue to grow and develop our business, and ensure many more customers are able to take advantage of Virtual Worlds’ design packages when they visit retailers, thereby allowing them to create their dream kitchen or bathroom.”

For more information on Virtual Worlds, please visit www.virtualworlds.co.uk.

Scotland is Reaching New Virtual Worlds

Innovation-led CAD technology company, Virtual Worlds is continuing to grow with the addition of a new regional sales representative to its busy team.

Leigh Townley has joined the firm to help drive sales of its market-leading 3D & 4D design software and raise awareness of the product in the KBB businesses across Scotland.DSCN2058

Leigh has over 10 years’ experience working in the design and interior architecture business in sales and design roles. For the past three years he has been working at Luxury Home Design in Glasgow where he has been project managing, remodelling and helping with the designs and layouts for his customers’ homes.

Now active in his new role, Leigh will be responsible for driving Virtual Worlds’ brand into the, until now, untapped Scotland region.

Nathan MacLean, managing director at Virtual Worlds, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Leigh to the team, his work with architects and designers has given him a wealth of knowledge in the design industry and has an innate understanding about what Virtual Worlds is all about. With a solid sales background stretching over seven years this role is perfectly suited to Leigh, and we can’t wait for him to get started expanding our customers within Scotland.”

Time to Provide More in Store…

The KBB retail dynamic has changed dramatically in recent years driven, in the large part, by the advent of e-commerce.

Last year alone, UK online spending rose by 11% to £114 billion and it is expected to grow by a further 11% this year, equating to an overall £126 billion. In fact, it is now estimated that some 27% of all retail sales now take place online.

More so, this age of constant connectivity and contextual relevance has irrevocably changed the way consumers make purchasing decisions; they’re able to instantly compare prices and product reviews in store, consult family and friends instantly via social media and, when they’re ready to buy, there is an ever-growing list of online retailers who will deliver products directly to them and, all too often, at a cheaper price.

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Image created using Virtual Worlds

 

Naturally, this hasn’t escaped the KBB industry with an increasing number of consumers choosing to buy their new kitchen or bathroom online. Cue an increased need for KBB retailers to be forward thinking and adapt their services to this new way of interacting with and engaging with customers.

This is clearly reflected in the latest Mintel report on the bathroom sector which concurs ‘Retailers need to build a wide suite of skills to service the complex requirements of a bathroom make-over – services will become increasingly sophisticated, with branded elements to add reassurance for shoppers.’

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Custom branded “Room-in-a-Box”

 

Here, the remit is about thinking outside the box and applying the use of the technology to a retail advantage. One clever way, for example, of getting consumers through the door with very minimal effort is through the use of an online planner; in short, a CAD planning tool which enables consumers to set out the room plan configuration for say, their bathroom of kitchen, and plot in their choice of furniture and accessories – all from the comfort of their own home.

Obviously, as would-be customers need to input their details beforehand, this not only provides data capture but a captivated potential customer who is actively looking at purchasing a KBB product. As soon as the design is done, it is simply sent on to the retailer to follow up in a timely manner.

From our experience, retailers can receive up 25 designs in a month through an online planner and some manufacturers receive over 200 designs. Assuming they manage to get those enquiries in to the showroom, the result is the ultimate lead generator.

Then, when it comes to in-store, it’s about making the experience as engaging and interactive as possible. Of course, the heart of this lies in the showroom which must be as aspirational and current as possible in order to showcase the full design possibilities available – also in having a strong design consultancy to help inspire customers.

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Experience a 4D design using Virtual Worlds Software

Again though, the latest technology can take the customer experience to the next level.
The industry’s first generation of 4D CAD technology, for example, delivers high quality, virtual reality and an interactive buying experience via a futuristic headset. In this way, users are able to experience a realistic 4D simulation of physically being in their dream kitchen or bathroom design via an avatar set to their appearance; allowing them to see exactly how much space there is between the island units and the oven and to ensure there is sufficient storage for their requirements by extending drawers fully and operating functional fittings such as magic corner units.

The use of 4D virtual reality can become an invaluable business tool. Given that most consumers can struggle to grasp an overhead, 3D plan or flat render, however realistic it looks, the 4D experience negates this problem entirely by allowing designers to express their ideas in a precise way that their clients physically experience. It also enables installers to plan work with confidence, knowing the design will work as ‘real’ products have been tried out in the design.

The result, in effect, is negation of the typical ‘buyer remorse’. Given that a new bathroom or kitchen is a huge investment for the average consumer, it is, of course, extremely important that they get it right. In this way, it effectively alleviates the fear factor associated to buying these big ticket items.

Testament to this, at Virtual Worlds, our customers, for instance, have reported an average 50 per cent increase in sales conversions since using our CAD technology – with some reporting a conversion rate of 80%.

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In Store branding available to retailers

 

Ultimately, it is important to remember that, unlike the FMCG sector, buying a new kitchen or bathroom is a rare and extremely costly experience. Therefore, amid constant tales of buyers being duped with online purchase which fail to live up to expectations and with two thirds (63%) of shoppers admitting they don’t get the best service and overall experience online3, the business case for the KBB retail experience is a strong one.

However, times are changing and the reality is that the age-old formula of great customer service and an experienced design team won’t always cut it and it’s more important than ever to create stand out. By investing in the latest technological innovations, retailers can look to drastically enhance the buyer experience; creating a tangible ‘wow’ factor which will not only get customers in the door but help close the deal.
 For more information on Virtual Worlds, please visit  www.virtualworlds.co.uk

*Taken from September’s issue of KBB Review – page 20* 

Virtual Worlds ONE event, supported by TOTO

Last week saw Virtual Worlds out and about meeting retailers and designers, at our 3 day Virtual Worlds ONE event, which was kindly hosted by TOTO at their London showroom.

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We wish to express our thanks to TOTO, who provided a great venue and warm hospitality. The space made available to us was perfect.

At the event, we met new and existing clients, where we were able to discuss their specific business needs, as well as present our new Virtual Worlds ONE suite of products. Virtual Worlds ONE is an all-inclusive subscription service that includes-

  • Virtual Worlds Professional
  • Online Pricing Module
  • Remote 3D viewer
  • AutoCAD Export
  • Web Planner
  • Unlimited classroom training

and of course….  our revolutionary 4D showroom, that allows your customer to try on their future new room, for size.

TOTO Day 2

Thank you to all that took time out of their busy day to be with us.

If you haven’t done so already, a visit to the  TOTO showroom, 140-142 St John St, London EC1V 4UA, is well worthwhile. They have impressive products, working displays, and a very friendly team.

Toto Day 3

If you would like to find out more about Virtual Worlds ONE and how is can help your business, contact us on 01908 663848 or email sales@virtualworlds.co.uk

Virtual Worlds Creates New Role to Champion 4D Installations.

Virtual Worlds at Logicom, the innovation-led CAD company, has appointed Jamie Gibbs as its first Customer Experience Manager. The new role reflects the company’s expansion into software which delivers both advanced CAD design and consumer-interfacing experiences, including its new Showroom 4D. Gibbs will be an external-facing customer champion.

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Jamie Gibbs – New Customer Experience Manager

Nathan Maclean, Acting Managing Director at Logicom explains the thinking behind the new position: “Our recently launched Virtual Worlds One package provides customers with a formidable array of powerful design and selling tools, including the exciting new 4D technology. Take-up has been exceptional and Jamie will be providing invaluable after-sales service, helping customers to use all the technology to its full potential and tailor it to their business”.

Gibbs has in-depth knowledge of the Virtual Worlds suite of software, having worked in Support and Training for the last three years. He explains: “My prime focus will be new users, including those of our 4D showroom software, providing hands-on support from the very out-set, so that they quickly get up to speed. The 4D technology is awesome and I’ll be going the extra mile to make sure our customers get the most from it.”

Under a subscription known as Virtual Worlds One, Virtual Worlds 4D is bundled together with Virtual Worlds Professional interactive 3D CAD software, its Viewer App and 2D Planning. Logicom is behind Virtual Worlds and it is understood that more innovations are currently in development, including a pricing module, which will be made available to all Virtual Worlds One subscribers.

First Impressions of the New 4D CAD Experience for Showrooms

A new CAD consumer experience is being rolled-out by Logicom, which could significantly change the way retailers sell.   Launched at the May Design Series, Virtual Worlds 4D proved a popular attraction for visitors who queued up to don the futuristic headset and experience a 4D world. One or two sceptics suggested it was a techie gimmick, whereas most thought it could transform the showroom experience and prove an exciting new selling tool.  The first installations are completed and the early indications are that this latest innovation could be a game changer.

The technology

Virtual Worlds 4D is an adjunct to the popular Virtual Worlds Professional 3D interactive CAD software. Key to the technology is the Virtual Worlds unique interactive platform and the advanced, simulating headset. When worn by the customer, it places them centre stage, in the designed space. Look down and the customer sees an avatar of themselves, sitting in their new room.

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Designs in Virtual Worlds 4D appear with exceptionally realistic depth, scale and parallax, made possible by Virtual Worlds’ unique 3D modelling. Users of 4D have access to all the current product catalogues of a vast choice of KBB manufacturers’ brands. Each manufacturer has worked closely with Virtual Worlds to ensure their product collections are accurately replicated in 3D format and update their catalogues regularly.

In 4D the 110 degree viewing angle places the customer directly in the room rather than looking in through a screen. The response to eye movement is immediate, facilitating 360 degree head-tracking and interaction with moving elements of the room, including opening cupboards, looking inside drawers and stepping into showers.

A first for the KBB sector, Virtual Worlds 4D claims to deliver a ground-breaking, virtual reality and interactive buying experience, which is compelling and optimises the sales potential of excellent design.

Subscription based

Under a subscription known as Virtual Worlds One, Virtual Worlds 4D is bundled together with Virtual Worlds Professional interactive 3D CAD software, its Viewer App, 2D Planning and Pricing Module. The software specialist Logicom is behind Virtual Worlds and it is understood that more innovations are currently in development, which will be made available to all subscribers.

A unique showroom experience

Reese James is one of the first retailers to install 4D. Owned and managed by Nigel Mason, the company has a showroom located in Shirley, near Solihull. A hot spot for kitchen and bathroom showrooms, Reese James has three competitors within a five minute walk. Working in such close proximity to other kitchen and bathroom businesses is a key reason Mason was eager to sign up to the 4D package, as he explains.

“Our whole approach is to offer the consumer a unique and outstanding experience from beginning to end. Having seen the 4D demo, I was sold hook, line and sinker. I knew our customers would be wowed and I wanted it immediately for our showroom. This is a major, major way that we are different from the guys down the road.

Nigel Mason of Reese James with customer using Virtual Worlds 4D lr

On the day the software was installed Mason and his staff demonstrated its capabilities to a steady stream of staff from neighbouring businesses, intrigued by the experience. “It was comical, we’d complete one demo and another person would pop in saying they’d heard our goggles were amazing and could they have a go. We were the talk of the area and the experience spread by word of mouth, within hours. It made us begin to realise what a powerful marketing tool this was going to be.”

The showroom is split 50:50 between bathroom and kitchen settings with Rotpunkt, Dornbracht and Laufen products on prominent display. Mason considers the technologically advanced 4D is in keeping with these brands and the company’s upmarket and forward-looking image: “I want customers to enter our showroom and be so impressed with what they see and the shopping experience we promise that they commit without delay. For us 4D is instrumental in achieving this”.

Like Mason, Derek Waddington owner of Broadway Bathrooms in Putney, London was immediately excited by the whole concept of 4D: “I’ve used Virtual Worlds for five years now and love it. When I saw the 4D demonstration, I immediately thought it was for us. It’s an additional investment but our showroom is not that large and needs to work hard for us – I feel 4D will really help”.

Pre-empts installation issues

It is early days for 4D and Mason is the first to admit that he and his staff are still honing their sales pitch, when it comes to introducing consumers to it. His commitment to the technology is such that all potential customers are given a brief demonstration of the ability of the “goggles”, as he refers to the headset, at preliminary discussions and visits to the showroom. “We show them how their kitchen or bathroom design will be visualised, how it will appear through the goggles and the outstanding level of detail they will be able to experience. So far each one has been amazed.  You can hear some of them leaving the showroom still excitedly talking about it. This is a major, major tool for us. We plan to use 4D with as many people as possible.”

Resolves spacial awareness

One of the key features of the technology is that the customer experiences their kitchen or bathroom as though they were walking through it in real life. The realism is impressive, so much so that both Waddington and Mason report that 4D provides the spacial awareness which so many customers lack.

Customer using 4D at James Reese lr

“Most customers struggle to grasp an overhead, 3D plan or flat render – however smart it looks. We find the 4D experience overcomes this problem entirely. They feel physically in the room and so they can see exactly how much space there is between the island units and the oven or the drawers fully extended and whether there is sufficient space for their requirements. It avoids all sorts of potential problems”, explains Mason.

Waddington agrees: “We use Virtual Worlds a lot in the showroom as it is real time and in 3D. Customers can relate to what they are seeing − they really get involved with the design. I anticipate 4D is gong to be that much better”.

As the customer physically experiences the room via the headset in 4D, the designer views the same design on a screen, only in 3D format. If required, adjustments to the design can be made and the customer can view the changes immediately. There is no additional work involved for the designer to go from standard 3D interactive stage to showing the customer the design in 4D.

Waddington thinks the consumer experience of 4D could negate the requirement for producing high resolution renders entirely: “High quality rendering is slow and dated; I think there will be no need once the consumer has seen their design through the goggles – we’ll be talking to them at an entirely different level”.

Design consultation fee potential

Installation of the new CAD technology has also made both retailers start to re-evaluate their approach to charging for design consultations. Like so many kitchen and bathroom retailers, Reese James does not currently charge for designs and Broadway Bathrooms do so rarely, both nervous of deterring potential clients. However, the introduction of the 4D experience is making them question this approach. Mason explains his thinking: “If you can bolt together an impressive showroom with strong design, personal service and add the wow factor of Virtual Worlds 4D experience, I am beginning to think a consultation fee could be feasible”.

Now that would be a game changer.

(Published in KBB Review, September 2015 edition, page 49.)

Virtual Worlds New App Brings Design into the Home

 

Virtual Worlds, the popular KBB CAD software from Logicom, has launched the Viewer App for designers to share their 3D interactive designs with customers.

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Compatible with Apple or Android mobile devices, the Viewer App allows designers to create conceptual designs using Virtual Worlds Professional and then upload them for viewing three dimensionally in the App. Likewise, designers can email a link to a customer for them to access proposed designs or a gallery of previous projects, at their convenience.

The Viewer App has multiple interfaces, including touch screen swipe and on-screen navigation.  Quick and responsive, the Virtual Worlds App brings to life designers’ plans, demonstrating them in an interactive format. Customers can walk through their room, on-screen, and view it from any angle; open cupboards and doors, look inside a shower, take a close-up of the tiling format, all on their tablet or Smartphone.

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Nathan MacLean, Acting Managing Director at Logicom sees the Viewer App as an exciting, additional selling tool:  “The Viewer App provides retailers with a powerful, portable sales tool, which shortens the sales process and showcases their designs in a customer friendly, engaging way. The concept of a customer, ipad in hand, standing in their actual kitchen as they tap their way around photo realistic visuals of their new layout, is now an exciting reality”.

The Viewer App has been developed by Logicom, creators of Virtual Worlds. The hosting service, available on an annual subscription, is provided through the Virtual Worlds’ cloud and is therefore secure, controlled and confidential. Once uploaded, plans can be accessed for a time managed period by invited customers only, even if the retailer or designer is off-line.

Considering the future of CAD

CAD has become a must-have software tool for the KBB sector.  The correlation between the expansion of CAD’s capabilities and the increasing number of users is no surprise to those working in development. We liaise closely with them and their expectations help define CAD’s future direction.

The list of current users is extensive, from manufacturers to designers, independent retailers to builders’ merchants. Some users have specific requirements, which can become the springboard for future technology. The 3D interactive versions are already powerful KBB design tools and deliver an engaging shopping experience with their Viewer Apps and 3D walk-throughs. There are signs that some retailers are looking for more integration in their business.

Logicom develops bespoke CAD software for such customers, one such example is a major retail chain in the Middle East. Abyat is a one-stop outlet for consumers and contractors building a new home. Its CAD software, based on Virtual Worlds, has evolved over several years. In addition to the product catalogues aspect of the software, a back-office system for Abyat’s kitchen catalogue has been developed, which enables the sales staff to create a quote and to trigger a finalised order. Given the fact that customers purchase virtually their entire house from Abyat, this automated system saves extensive sales and administration time and negates order specification errors.

(Attribute article to Nathan MacLean, Acting Managing Director, Logicom)