Traditional company küchenquelle is taking kitchen consultation to the next level with their new award-winning Mixed Reality technology. We spoke to Wolfgang Siegel, Director Marketing & Communication at küchenquelle, about what Mixed Reality (MR) offers to their customers, their experience of implementing the technology at home with the customer and how it will feature in their new TV campaign.
Küchenquelle received the German Innovation Award this year for its new consultation with Mixed Reality technology. Congratulations! What advantages does this technology have for your customers?
Buying a kitchen is a huge emotional and financial decision. Kitchens have gone from being a place where you simply prepare food to being the main communications area in the home. They represent a customer’s pride in their living space. When it comes to buying a new kitchen, it is easy for customers to see the different kitchens on offer both online and in store but they are making a considerable financial investment and the truth is that they don’t know how these kitchens will ultimately look. This is where our Mixed Reality technology comes in: an advisor visits a customer at their home and wearing the Mixed Reality headsets they design a new kitchen together placing virtual 3D elements into the existing kitchen space. They can see what size the kitchen needs to be, whether the colour fits the space and how it suits the specific lighting conditions.
Being an ecommerce company, our customers are tech-savvy but they still expect and appreciate personal consultation when buying a kitchen. Our MR headsets really compliment these two requirements. We are standing at the forefront of a really important development which will revolutionise the B2C industry. I predict that Mixed Reality will replace Virtual Reality technology in the B2C sector.
küchenquelle uses Microsoft HoloLens 2, equipped with the .roomsby Island Labs software, for its Mixed Reality headsets. How did you develop this technology?
We found a strategic partner - Berlin-based start-up Island Labs - which developed the software and converted all of our kitchen components into 3D virtual rotatable elements. This was the biggest challenge. In fact, one of the developers at Island Labs used to work at Microsoft and was just so excited that she was working on a project which had real-life implementation! It was this relationship between küchenquelle as a traditional company and start-up Island Labs with their disruptive thinking which led to our exciting MR solution.
The advantages of using mixed reality technology in kitchen planning are evident. In your opinion, what other industries would benefit from this technology?
There are some great applications of Mixed Reality in the B2B sector: companies use for example the technology when planning and building elevators and it is widely used in medical technology. It works for us because customised kitchen planning involves thousands of different individual parts; it is an extremely complex process. It is not like simply buying a standard kitchen solution you see on the mass market. I would recommend it for any company which produces customised products involving many different components and parts, and where it makes sense to give the customer a visual representation of what the product looks like in its intended setting before it is built and delivered.
küchenquelle is so far the only medium-sized company in Germany that uses Mixed Reality in its kitchen consultations - i.e. in the business to consumer sector - but this technology has already been around for a few years. Why is this?
Firstly it is important to say that because we are the first it gives us an enormous potential competitive advantage. We are just coming out of the test phase and from late Autumn we will roll out the service nationwide. As for why others are not doing this, quite simply no other company is as far as we are. We believe in the technology and have taken the time to test and gather experience.
Companies such as IKEA have developed apps that allow customers to place virtual furniture in their homes independently. In Corona times, this has certain advantages. Do you have plans to follow a similar path?
We are currently working with our strategic partners to further develop our online planning tools but our focus remains on at-home consultation using the Mixed Reality technology. Let me explain why: online planning is a great preliminary tool but customised kitchen planning is incredibly complex; the customer can only experience spatial perception with lighting conditions, floor material, wall colours, doors and windows at home with MR technology. Many customers would be overstretched doing the entire process on their own. You need an expert at your side to advise you. Online planning cannot replace the personal consultation, especially for individually planned kitchens.
Your experience with TV advertising dates back to 1997. A lot has changed technologically in 20 years. How have you developed your TV advertising over the years?
As moving images become more important with the growth of digital channels, social media and streaming services, marketers in brand management will need to tell distinctive and compelling stories.They have to deliver content which helps customers to understand the brand experience and emotions and which can quickly and clearly illustrate the customer benefits. We are one of the only kitchen retailers which invests in nationwide TV advertising, and because of this medium we almost have a unique selling point. When we relaunch our TV campaign next year we will focus on communicating our added value to the customer through our MR planning tool; only moving images can really communicate the benefits of this experience to our audience.
küchenquelle uses programmatic ads together with performance TV campaigns. How do you implement these and other marketing measures?
As an e-commerce company, Programmatic Advertising is the core element for us. In general, however, the interaction between Programmatic Ads and TV is still in its infancy. As küchenquelle, we have accompanied this development from the very beginning and have built up a knowledge advantage within the industry. In my opinion, this topic will become increasingly important in the future.
Through research we know that people on average only buy two kitchens in their lives, so new customer acquisition is extremely important to us. Personal recommendations are also vital so we will be working to develop our recommendation marketing in the near future.
When it comes to innovation, what does the future hold for German SMEs?
The German Mittelstand will continue to be an important driver of investment. When it comes to SME digitalisation is, however, I feel this is often defined too narrowly. We need to go further into this subject. Digitalisation should include the process of digitally transforming entire business processes, not just from the view of the company, but fully designed around the needs of and benefits to the customer. A simple example from our side is our new online appointment tool which will enable our customers to arrange appointments with our kitchen advisors. We will launch for the first time this starting from next year. It sounds like something so straightforward, but it involves a whole chain of complex processes. We are willing to invest in the digitalisation of our traditional company so that the customer experience generates excitement and delight.