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Why Williams-Sonoma Spent $112 Million On This Start-Up

Why Williams-Sonoma Spent $112 Million On This Start-Up

The retailer is buying an augmented reality start-up to give it an advantage in selling its furniture and homewares.

Williams-Sonoma, the home furnishings and kitchen supplies company that owns stores under its namesake as well as the West Elm and Pottery Barn retailers, just announced that it has agreed to acquire 3-D imaging and augmented reality start-up Outward for $112 million in cash.

The 5-year old company specializes in replicating physical products in high-quality 3-D imagery that can be used for visual merchandising on retail websites and apps.

Williams-Sonoma has worked with Outward for three years, originally using its technology to enable customers to get a 360-degree view of a piece of furniture on its websites and easily swap out different color choices to better envision the piece in their own spaces.

For CEO Laura Alber, this deal is the first technology company acquisition since she took over the helm of Williams-Sonoma in 2010.

“One of the key components here is the quality of the image,” said Alber in regard to the company’s decision to work with Outward over other companies in the space. “If you look at other 3-D images, they are very cartoon-like or take a lot of time to produce. We believe the quality and scalability is unparalleled.”

This move underscores just how important augmented reality has become for home decor and furnishings retailers in their online platforms. Everyone from Wayfair to Ikea to Amazon have all introduced augmented reality shopping experiences within the last 18 months.

For Williams-Sonoma and Outward, there are plans to roll-out new shopping experiences that include virtual reality.

“We want to transform the shopping experience for all customers,” said Alber.

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