How We Developed the AR Application for DIY Retailer Leroy Merlin

Augmented reality is one of the main technological trends within retail in the recent years. Retail trading is rapidly moving to a digital world. However, success largely depends on the willingness to apply the technology, because not everyone knows how to approach it. To simplify your task, it is worthwhile to check real case studies.

Why DIY-retailer needs an augmented reality application

It comes as no surprise — we all buy something on the Internet. But there are some underwater rocks for online shopping… For example, we can’t have hands-on experience with things, and we can’t see what the item looks like in “real life”. However, if we talk about furniture and elements of home decor, we can’t try them on even in physical stores.

But now we can solve this issue using AR. This approach makes the purchase process faster and more convenient. It also reduces the risk of choosing the wrong product which may lead to disappointment in the purchase.

With Leroy Merlin AR mobile app, the users can visually evaluate their choice, see how the product will fit into their apartment. And it’s possible with iPhone or iPad.

The application uses the device’s camera and complements the image with goods from the catalog. It’s worth noting that all models are displayed in their real sizes, color and texture. Thus, augmented reality technologies usage for “fitting” furniture gives a completely new, improved customer experience.

Technical Solution

We faced an issue with goods visualizing from Leroy Merlin stores assortment. The issue turned out as a very interesting and at the same time a difficult task. First of all, we needed to find a designer that specializes in 3D models rendering. Then we selected a format of models that can be used in Xcode. The final stage was implementation of the application’s functionality.

There were no problems with 3D-modeling, but we faced some difficulties with a large number of Leroy Merlin goods, because it takes a lot of effort to make augmented reality models for all products at once. So at first we’ve created about 30 models that appeared in the first release of the updated application. We received a lot of positive feedback from users and also we’ve got some media attention.

It became clear that Leroy Merlin customers are ready for innovation. They are not afraid to try new things and also they are happy to master technologies. Therefore, we decided to expand the product range available for 3D fitting. But at this stage we faced another challenge — new products could appear in the application only with a new release.

The team “runs” sprint every two weeks, but not every sprint ends up with a new version release. Since we didn’t want to have a delay with a new 3D models addition, we implemented a solution which allows to load new models without updated version release on our middleware.

Working with ARKit

Of course, there are many different solutions for augmented reality. These are InfinityAR, Vuforia, ARToolKit, Catchoom, Augment, Blippa and a few others. But we understood the advantages of the native framework and decided to dwell on Apple ARKit.

After Apple introduced it on WWDC, this technology became more accessible. However, the task turned out to be pretty complex, because together with Leroy Merlin we were one of the first to implement ARKit in a mobile application.

We involved our best iOS developer for this task. Our iOS developer Inna Kuts was studying all possible materials on ARKit creation during the whole sprint. In fact, at that time there was not much material to learn: a couple of video courses and Apple documentation. Thus, we had to deal with a new technology — from scratch.

But even now, after the release, the development process isn’t over. For example, recently Apple released an update for ARKit, thanks to which the technology of augmented reality will work on vertical surfaces.

This means that you can not only see how the dresser looks in this part of the room, but also do the same with any decoration materials, decor elements and lighting. For example, “try on” your favorite sconces or wallpaper. Based on a recent study, we created a test assembly and already know how to make everything work.

In addition, Nullgravity team is actively preparing augmented reality library release for Android, which is now at a beta stage. Within a brief timeline we will be able to please those Leroy Merlin customers that use Android devices.

Development Process

We are working on a mobile application for Leroy Merlin for about a year now. Those who partner with corporations know how much the process differs from working with a startup or developing its own product.

A lot more stakeholders are involved in the process. The infrastructure of the mobile application is greatly complicated: the backend executes one command, the application executes another, the servers are in the third zone of responsibility and so on. This factor largely determines the course of mobile development. It’s not always possible to implement necessary functionality in the first release.

Since Leroy Merlin is not just another retailer, but one of the largest innovative company in the DIY retail segment worldwide, we decided that the standard an ecommerce application functionality is indispensable.

In any case, innovations should create a new client experience, and augmented reality proved to be a suitable solution. We were lucky to have a support form a client team. Many companies are not ready to invest in innovative solutions, which are difficult to monetize immediately, but Leroy Merlin decided to try such an experiment.

And the experiment was successful.

Sometimes business thinks that customers are not ready for innovative technology. That’s why many companies choose proven and fairly standard solutions. But we went the other way, and that’s why Leroy Merlin customers get a new client experience, studying new functions of AR application with joy and curiosity.

The main thing is that technologies really help us in everyday life. Now you can put aside the roulette and clearly evaluate how a new lamp or bedside table will look in your home’s interior. Now you may not worry about fitting in or possible money returns. Moreover, to make a decision, you do not even need to go to the store. Everything became much easier and more interesting.