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John Lewis has invested in virtual interior design but what is it?

Virtual interior design company DigitalBridge picked up £100,000 worth of investment from John Lewis recently, as part of its success at the department store chain's JLAB tech accelerator programme.

Describing itself as a mixed reality company that allows consumers to virtually “try on” home décor products in their own properties, the tech firm was named John Lewis's partners' choice at the recent JLAB awards. Senior executives at the retailer have identified significant commercial potential in the design tool.

The investment comes after what was deemed a successful in-store trial with John Lewis as part of the accelerator programme. DigitalBridge said its technology allows consumers to bridge the “imagination gap” which can occur when they delay purchases because they cannot visualise how something will look in their home.

DigitalBridge CEO David Levine says the investment from one of the UK's most prominent retailers will allow the company to accelerate its recruitment drive and develop its research in “computer vision and deep learning for the retail sector”.

“As more and more customers look to make purchases online, allowing them to visualise how a product looks in their own room will give retailers a massive advantage over their competitors,” he added.

“The UK furniture market is worth about £10.9 billion – or 1.9% of GDP – if you consider that thousands of people are delaying or deciding against purchases because of the imagination gap, there is a significant commercial benefit to developing this type of technology for the retail sector.”

How does it work?

DigitalBridge's virtual design tool can be integrated into a retailer's own website, allowing customers to place products within an image of their own rooms, thus giving them a chance to review purchases before making a decision.

Levine and his team spent their time at JLAB – a 12-week development period – refining the app while receiving advice from senior executives at the retailer.

In-store trials and a survey related to use of the tool found that 80% of customers said the technology would make them more likely to make a purchase on the day.

The business was founded in Manchester in 2013 and the team now comprises 12 researchers and developers at Manchester Science Park.

Levine commented: “Computer vision and the type of technology being pioneered by companies like DigitalBridge have real commercial potential for retailers.

The JLAB initiative for 2016, which was run by John Lewis and innovation specialist L Marks, resulted in investment in three retail tech start-ups in total. Wedding Planner, which combines technology, industry expertise and creativity to help brides and grooms to-be plan their wedding from their phone and online, and Link Big, a tool that turns Instagram to a social checkout by allowing customers to buy products seamlessly from their Instagram feed shop, each received £50,000.

Paul Coby, CIO of the John Lewis Partnership, commented at the time the winners were announced: "JLAB was inspired by our founder Spedan Lewis' ideas about bringing innovation to the retail industry.

"The three start-ups we have invested in have the potential and the technology to really excite John Lewis shoppers."