Ikea has acquired augmented reality (AR) start-up Geomagical Labs in a bid to drive shoppers to purchase more big-ticket items without needing to visit a store.

Geomagical Labs’ key product allows users to scan a room using a smartphone, render that into a panoramic 3D picture, remove all the furniture currently in it and then play around with the room by adding new items to scale.

Ikea’s acquisition of the tech startup will allow the retailer to incorporate this function into its website and apps to help customers visualise their spaces with Ikea furniture in more accurately.

The acquisition will also allow Ikea to develop future AR tools in house. 

This is not Ikea’s first foray into AR – it previously used Apple’s AR development kit – but Geomagical’s tech is a more accurate upgrade to Ikea’s systems.

GlobalData analyst Wafaa Hassan said AR visualisation features will become more prominent due to coronavirus: “As one of the early investors of AR, Ikea’s acquisition of Geomagical Labs gives its customers the opportunity to see how products will look in their homes without having to visit a showroom. It is the kind of application that is particularly important today when millions of consumers are confined to their homes,” he said.

“Ikea is not the only retail giant investing in AR during this pandemic. John Lewis has launched the Virtual Sofa function on its iOS app, which allows customers to virtually place sofas and armchairs in their homes before making a purchase. Burberry has also recently released its latest AR feature, enabling customers to view 3D images of products via Google search.

“The number of enterprise use cases for AR technology has been growing in recent years, with retailers leading the way. The pandemic will accelerate this trend, as it allows consumers to make purchasing decisions remotely.”

The Swedish retailer has reportedly spent $200m investing in or acquiring 23 tech start-ups in recent years, including freelancer platform TaskRabbit in 2017. Such acquisitions are part of a larger company goal to focus on its technological capabilities, not only by adopting new innovations but by building them itself. 

Ikea closed all bricks-and-mortar stores in the UK from March 20 but made headlines when it repurposed its Wembley store car park as a coronavirus testing centre for NHS workers.