Wayfair Tech Blog

Two Decades of Wayfair Innovation, Part One

Room photo on phone
shubhra pandit & shrenik sadalgi

It’s been 20 years since the world was introduced to Wayfair. Over this time, we’ve transformed the online retail furniture space. This industry disruption was driven by innovations that emerged across all areas of the company, fueled by vision and a gifted group of technologists with a shared desire—to innovate, experiment, and redefine the online retail experience.

We wanted to take a moment to look back at our favorite 20 top innovations developed over this period in a two-part blog series. While some garnered more mainstream attention or experienced greater adoption, they all played an integral role in getting us to where we are today.

With that, let’s begin with our first ten innovations.

Wayfair Delivers Visualization Experiences

1. Interactive Photo: Wayfair was the first retailer that allowed customers to browse for a product via their smartphone and, once identifying items of interest, view them in the context of their space using Augmented Reality. An example of this is Interactive Photo. Introduced in 2019 and delivered through the Wayfair mobile app, Interactive Photo lets shoppers hold up their smartphone to face any room in their home. Next, through an AR experience, they could place an item such as a couch in the room to see how it looks. 

From here, we did two things. First, we evolved the offering by eliminating the live aspect and allowing customers to take a picture of a space and then play around with the design aspects later. Second, Interactive Photo spawned 3D Room Planner, which featured spatial awareness capabilities that let customers design their room by adding 3D models of furniture and looking at the setup from any angle they like.

2. Fused Photo: Always looking to provide customers with a variety of methods to view products in their homes, we’ve figured out a technique to create  photorealistic visualizations of products in customer’s spaces.Unlike Interactive photo, the customer would take a picture of their space and share it with Wayfair and describe what items they want to add, such as an accent chair and a couch. An algorithm then produces a photo with these items in the room, after which customers could then swap out and replace the items in the picture with others until they found those they like best.

Wayfair Introduces Next-Gen Digital Experiences

3. Wayfair Spaces: Back in 2018, Wayfair quickly recognized the impact emerging platforms such as Spatial Computing could have outside of the entertainment  industry. Presented via Magic Leap glasses, Wayfair Spaces presented dollhouse-like scenes, which, similar to a catalog, offered an array of products. Customers could pick one dollhouse, which would expand, allowing shoppers to drag 3D products from the mixed-reality realm into a real-world location such as their living room. The customer could even move it around as they would with real-life furniture and see how it looks in different spots while also adding additional items. Wayfair Spaces became the basis for the many mixed reality experiences in the industry today. 

4. Patio Playground: Launched in 2016, this was our first experience with a Virtual Reality (VR) platform where instead of the “real world” element, there was a digital Wayfair store. Running on Oculus, customers would enter a digital world where they would select products. Once chosen, the items would be delivered by digital drone, after which they could be arranged on a patio. This experience taught us much about user interfaces in the VR world, how people interact with them, and more. 

5. IdeaSpaces: This application took the VR experience one step further. Inspired by Wayfair’s Get the Look resource and delivered through your smartphone using Google’s VR Daydream headset (which followed an earlier cardboard version), it was more like a store where customers could access different lifestyle rooms or idea spaces. In each space, they could move around, look at products, rotate them a complete 360-degrees, access additional information, and then move to the next room, saving products along the way. 

6. WayfairView: When Google announced the first Augmented Reality (AR) platform called Project Tango, we immediately recognized the value of AR platforms on mobile devices and launched WayfairView. Introduced in 2016, WayfairView made it easy to visualize 3D products in your home where you could see how they look, determine if they fit, whether or not they match the current environment, and more. Through this experience, customers could make purchases with entirely new levels of confidence.
We later launched a mass-market version of WayfairView called View in Room 3D. This was made available on the Wayfair app and rolled out following Apple’s release of its new AR capabilities on iPhones. As a result, any customer with a smartphone could filter through our catalog of 3D products and see them in their space.

Hacking Our Way to New Innovations

7. Visual Search / Search with Photo:  The inspirations behind Wayfair innovations have sprouted from many sources, including our annual company-wide hackathon. One such example is Visual Search. Have you ever been at a house party and noticed a piece of furniture you needed to have? Let’s say it was a cube-shaped end table. How could you find the same or near-identical piece with no details other than what you can see and feel? Easy, one winning hackathon team created a smartphone visual search feature that lets you share a picture of the item through the Wayfair app. Next, we would present you with similar items from our massive catalog.

Raising the (Design) Bar on the In-Store Experience

8. Wayfair Design Bar: Wayfair opening its first physical retail pilot in 2019 presented an opportunity to introduce innovations to our in-store shoppers. This store included our next creation, a bar. More specifically, a Design Bar that featured computers, our 3D Room Planner, and VR headsets. At the Design Bar, customers could take items they liked in the store and begin designing their space right then and there. Using the headset, they could view the room, walk around, see what the design looks like from different angles, and more.

Wayfair Transforms Ads

9. Ad Attribution and Bidding: Wayfair marketing and advertising teams are always looking to fine-tune their craft. This included coming up with a method to attribute which ads lead to a sale. In the early 2000s, it was tough to determine which of the ads we bought brought a customer to the Wayfair site and led to a sale. As opposed to the consideration cycles for clothes or music which are typically relatively quick, this was especially challenging for home purchases where consideration cycles could last weeks. In the instances of clothes and music, simply looking at last-click attribution was fairly effective, but that didn’t work for couches. 

Wayfair took this mission in-house, where we focused on multi-click attribution and figuring out how to allocate the click “juice” from any ad to the ultimate outcome that it might drive. Through these efforts, we could determine which ad was the most important in a particular purchase.

At the same time, the team came up with an Advertising Bidding System method to maximize profits by determining the optimal combination of the sale price for a product and bids for advertising which would vary depending on the site—for example, a price comparison site is much cheaper than Google. What it did was provide better synchronization between ad buying and the pricing by looking at pricing and marketing holistically, which allowed us to maximize our ad spend at a time when the rest of the industry wasn’t thinking this way.

Wayfair Giving Back

10. AIDE: Automatic Image Description Engine: This innovation was published at the Web For All 2022 conference, which focuses on web accessibility research. The work focused on how traditional user-generated content on websites often include photos like those posted alongside product reviews. These photos often don't include any accessible text describing what is in the image, which for someone visually impaired makes it tough to know what these photos are communicating. Wayfair created a system that analyses the picture to understand what's in it and extracts useful keywords from the corresponding review comments to create a meaningful statement that helps these visually impaired individuals better understand all elements of the posted content.
That’s ten innovations down, with the next group to be posted shortly. We hope you enjoyed reading these as much as we enjoyed pulling them together. Come back soon to read the next ten!