January 5/12, 2015; Volume 28/Number 14
By Jenna Lippin
The flooring industry has a reputation of being slow to embrace the latest technology, but more and more manufacturers are proving this wrong. A recent example of this progress is the development of realistic, innovative room visualizers, going beyond stock room scenes with a single color palette.
Take Quick-Step, for example. At Surfaces 2014 the company created a buzz with its Style My Floor app, which officially launched in April. The visualizer tool allows consumers to view floors in their own spaces with their decors and color preferences. “Pre-populated room scenes don’t lend themselves to the consumer’s real life, so allowing real-time room views was definitely one of the key features we wanted to embed,” explained Asi Peres, digital marketing manager. “My main goal was making it extremely simple and extremely fast because you can quickly lose a consumer’s attention. How can you make an experience that’s really worthwhile? With the ability to see a floor laid in your own room without it really being there. You don’t really have options like that today in the market.”
Also enhancing its room visualization technology is Flooring America, which launched its My Floor Style at the group’s winter convention earlier this month. According to Andy Valeriani, senior director of online marketing, the group developed the app with four goals in mind: compatibility with tablet devices, the ability for a consumer to upload a photo of her own room, simplicity/ease of use and sharing capabilities for social media feedback.
“We don’t see the app as a huge [retail] traffic driver, but we think once the consumer is at the store or on the store’s website and sees [the tool is] available, it will act as a differentiator for our flooring stores in that market. Hopefully that will make her go into a showroom with what she wants in mind.”
Also recently launched is Floorvana, Shaw’s answer to the room visualizer app. The new technology allows the user to take or upload a photo of her choice and then choose product based on a color identified by the app in the picture. “The app will do the search for you and find a color from the picture in any flooring type included in the Shaw catalog,” explained Misty Hodge, Shaw’s director of digital marketing platforms. “It will pull color out of everything and find even the slightest details in the product catalog, such as a green fleck in a carpet or marble swirl in a tile. It really helps the selection process; choosing flooring is daunting.”
While room visualizers allow consumers to “shop around” from home, a number of manufacturers that offer these tools continue to encourage retailers to use these online resources to help make sales, mainly because these features allow consumers to search and then come into stores ready to buy, instead of just doing their initial browsing.
One such company is Congoleum, which was early to launch RoomVision, first introduced in 2000. The company has continued to update and improve the visualization tool to optimize consumer usage. “As consumers’ shopping behavior has evolved, the way they use RoomVision has also changed,” explained Kurt Denman, senior vice president of marketing. “When it initially launched, consumers would typically visit a store to research the various products and designs that were available. Savvy retailers would show their customers how their flooring selections might look in a room via RoomVision or suggest they visit the site when they return home. Today, consumers begin their search online, long before an actual store visit. Therefore, we now engage consumers via congoleum.com and help them navigate product choices and preview available designs.”
With the optimization of Mannington’s Floor App, which has been known as its Virtual Decorator, the company is able to fulfill its goal of facilitating a customer’s search from home, leading her to readily purchase in-store. “It’s really the best way for consumers to see what the floor would look like in their homes before they make a final decision,” said Betsy Amoroso, corporate communications director. With Mannington’s virtual tool users also have the opportunity to test coordinating wall color, making “the visual even more realistic. As of [December], customers are able to upload a photo of their own rooms for use in Virtual Decorator [instead of using stock room scenes]—it will be the closest they can possibly get to seeing what it will look like before they buy.”
Like Mannington, most companies have optimized their room visualization tools, both by turning them into mobile-friendly apps and allowing users to upload their own photos instead of using pre-loaded room scenes. Stainmaster, for example, now allows consumers using its Carpet Showroom app to erase the flooring from the pictures uploaded. They can then replace the floor with swatches that are available within the app. “The app is really intended to help consumers get over the hump of not being able to visualize a particular carpet in their own homes,” noted Saakait Mathur, global director of interactive marketing. “We work with retailers to help connect them to customers. We want to make sure the tool has a drive back to the retailer—at the end that is what is most important; the consumer still has to go to a retailer to make the transaction.”
A number of manufacturers offer functions on their room visualizers that allow consumers to save items from their research as well, helping them keep their often lengthy searches well organized. Emser Tile’s Design Made Easy tool, for example, offers users the option to upload a photo, add a selection from Emser products to their rooms, then save their favorite products in My Memo for later reference.
As consumer shopping trends and technology continue to evolve, flooring manufacturers make sure they collect feedback from app users and RSAs to determine what features and updates are necessary to their room visualization tools. Because of constant advances, companies must refresh their web-based features. While some launched room visualizers years ago, they have come a long way from one room scene with a color wheel.
“Our Design a Room visualizer has been around in varying forms for almost 14 years,” said Bronwynn March, Armstrong’s manager of residential marketing. “We continue to talk to customers about what they want in a visualization tool and will be making future updates to the tool based on their input. We are continually enhancing and improving the process to make it easy for our customers to use and create personalized designs with our products.”
Daltile is on the same page. Its Tile & Stone Visualizer debuted at Surfaces 2011 in response to customers’ need for real-time design support. “We’ve continued to update and enhance the tool to ensure our catalog of products is available at their fingertips at anytime,” said April Wilson, brand marketing manager. “We consistently hear from our customers that our visualizer is a helpful tool in making selections. In fact, our website analytics show it’s our most utilized customer web tool.”
Karndean has also seen a jump in web traffic thanks to its Augmented Reality tool, which includes the company’s full product catalog that is regularly updated to integrate product introductions. “Our website and social media accounts have experienced a large increase in traffic [with the visualization tool],” said Ben Moriarty, Karndean’s media manager. “We also have seen a jump in the number of ‘Find a Retailer’ searches, which helps users find their nearest Karndean retail partner, and an increase in requests for samples and brochures.”