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Amazon retail stores could use augmented reality to sell furniture, appliances

Why it matters to you

Amazon already operates physical bookstores and is testing a high-tech grocery store, and its latest plan could one day turn up at the mall.

Amazon’s brick-and-mortar ambitions could be about to head in yet another direction with a store selling furniture and home appliances that uses augmented reality (AR) to help customers choose their goods.

Seattle-based Amazon is considering a plan that would let customers use AR technology to see the goods in different kinds of setups, a person claiming to have knowledge of the matter told the NY Times.

A number of firms already offer apps that let you see how virtual furniture and other goods would look in your home, so Amazon’s apparent plan doesn’t sound particularly groundbreaking, according to what we currently know. IKEA, for example, launched an AR app four years ago that lets you use a smartphone or tablet to superimpose furniture into rooms in your home.

However, Amazon’s plan appears to confirm its ongoing interest in exploring opportunities for businesses with physical locations, rather than simply relying on its web-based venture for revenue. Amazon is already operating five physical bookstores across the U.S., the most recent one opening in Chicago just last week. And the company hit the headlines recently when it started testing a grocery store concept — Amazon Go — where customers can walk in, grab what they need, and leave without hitting a cash desk; the system’s incorporated technology causes the cost of the items to be automatically deducted from the shopper’s account.

The Times’ report said the ecommerce giant is also looking into the idea of building stores “similar to Apple’s retail emporiums.” But rather than displaying iPhones and iPads on the tables, the store would showcase Amazon’s steadily expanding inventory of hardware items, including e-readers, tablets, and Echo speakers.

Of course, it’s possible that the proposed AR-based store won’t even make it past the research stage, especially if Amazon decides it’s too hard to implement or considers the potential reward too small. As the Times points out, “groups within Amazon are often encouraged to come up with zany initiatives,” with many presumably abandoned early on.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said five years ago that he had little interest in building physical retail stores unless he could come up with something unique. Amazon Go is certainly just that, and Amazon Books offers a slightly different take on the traditional bookstore, but whether a concept mixing AR with furniture and appliances manages to convince executives that it’s an idea worth pursuing remains to be seen.