Williams-Sonoma Inc has announced that an agreement has been reached to acquire Outward Inc for an all cash consideration of $112 million. Williams-Sonoma Inc is a US-based high-end retailer of home furnishings and kitchenware, associated with stores such as Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, PBteen, West Elm, Rejuvenation, and Mark and Graham. Outward, founded in 2012, is a 3D imaging and augmented reality technology company focused on applying this technology to the home furnishings and decor industry. Outward provides visual merchandising to make shopping experiences more interactive and engaging.
Following the completion of the acquisition and melding of the two companies, expected prior to year’s end, Outward will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Williams-Sonoma. The headquarters will remain in San Jose, CA (Williams-Sonoma is headquartered in San Francisco, CA), and will be managed by Outward’s current leadership team.
Both companies expressed positive enthusiasm with regards to the acquisition. Williams-Sonoma stated that it is looking to implement and further develop Outward’s technology to create applications for product visualization, digital room design, and use of augmented and virtual reality for retail. Outward commented that due to the various channels available to Williams-Sonoma it will allow for many opportunities in creation of their design experiences and they will be able to apply those to their existing customer base.
Statements from the companies suggest that Williams-Sonoma is looking to add experiences similar to those being developed by IKEA, Target, Wayfair, and Amazon to their apps through their different brands. These apps use AR technology to allow users to place virtual representations of items in their homes to see if they match the decor or fit in a specific location thus, expediting the time between consideration and purchase (no need to visit a store for confirmation). Walmart also has shown interest in how AR and VR might improve shopping experiences, though they have not rolled out such a feature to their applications just yet.
Though AR apps similar to the ones described above are currently only available on iOS devices these sorts of AR apps are expected to expand to Android devices as Google’s ARCore tech matures and rolls out to the public. Further down the road it’s expected that the apps will find their way to consumer AR headsets.
As AR headsets improve one would expect retailers to present their entire furniture catalogue online and allow users the ultimate shopping and design experience using AR to directly in the home. An appealing prospect to be sure: instead of hiring a home designer you become your own home designer and can arrange a room exactly how you would like and preview it. It’s foreseeable that such experience could extend beyond goods like furniture and kitchenware and even into clothing, electronics, and more.