Buying furniture online is a gamble. The Mine wants to use AR to improve the experience

In some ways, shopping for furniture in a store is a bit odd.

Even if you bring pictures of your living room, it can be hard to get a feel for how a coffee table will look with the bookshelves you already have. Then again, trying to buy something like that online can feel like a gamble. Scroll the comments on almost anything you buy and you’ll find someone saying the color of the furniture doesn’t match the picture. While maybe not a deal-breaker for a new pair of headphones, you’ll probably be less happy if your new couch is closer to teal than baby blue, for example.

To try and make shoppers more comfortable with the idea of dropping hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on these big-ticket items sight unseen, retailers are turning to augmented reality. Last year, for example, Williams-Sonoma acquired Outward, a company that makes high-quality 3D images for AR apps that let you virtually plunk items down, giving a taste of how they’ll look (through your phone). The Mine is taking a similar approach, except it does the images in-house at the Lowe’s Innovation Labs.

Lowe’s acquired The Mine in 2011, and the company offers furniture, lighting, and decor items that are higher-end than what you’d find after walking past the lumber aisle. In September 2017, The Mine released its ARKit app, Envisioned (iOS), which lets you bring 3D scans of coffee tables, lamps, coaches, and more into your home.

“Our intent is to make high-end design attainable and accessible and not so scary,” The Mine President Michelle Newbery told Digital Trends.

With some furniture apps, the images can look a bit cartoony, giving you the feeling you’re picking out furniture for The Sims rather than your living room. As the price of a piece of furniture goes up, there’s likely more detail that you want to see.

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When Lowe’s was first looking into 3D imaging, “no one could generate them at the quality we were looking for,” said Josh Shabtai, Lowe’s Innovation Labs’ director of operations. So instead, Lowe’s built its own custom hardware, which it uses to photograph items for The Mine’s virtual imaging collection. If you’ve ever wondered what the bottom of a sofa looks like, this is the website to find out.

“Our intent is to make high-end design attainable and accessible and not so scary.”

The corresponding Envisioned app can take a bit of effort to master. You select one of the items (limited to the selection that’s been specially photographed) and point your ARKit-enabled iPhone or iPad at the floor. A square will turn blue when you’ve found a spot big enough to accommodate the couch or chair. While you can spin the objects all the way around on the website, they’re flattened in the app. You can see the details very clearly, though. We found it a bit tricky to get the dimensions on some items right. For example, somehow, a table lamp looked as tall as a chair when we put it on the floor.

Newbery said The Mine wants to give its customers as much or as little help as they need. There’s a personal concierge service that can walk you through every step, “whether it’s just a sofa or your whole living room,” she said. You can even checkout directly from the chat window.

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We perused the site for a dining table, since ours is literally on its last, semi-broken legs. Once we were on the dining room table portion of the site, a checklist on the left let us narrow down the options. Since we had exact dimensions in mind, this helped considerably. It’s actually surprising that most other furniture sites don’t have anything like this. Instead, you have to click on the tables individually to see if they’re tall enough to fit your chairs.

The checklist made it pretty easy to sort through The Mine’s collection, but we also tested out the company’s concierge service. Within a couple of hours of emailing our dimensions, budget, and a picture of our dining chairs, our concierge had gotten back to us with a couple of choices. Sadly, none of them were available to view in 3D.

The Mine swears by its customer service and said that while it tries not to sell you something you won’t love in the first place, it’ll help you return a mismatched couch or too-large table if need be.

“I think oftentimes people are afraid to buy online,” said Hayley Francis, design and trends manager of The Mine. “But with this app, they can actually really see the size and feel comfortable in their purchase.”