Wayfair’s Steve Conine on the Amazon Threat, Adopting A.I. & More

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show you styles and designs in that space that look amazingly well.

In parallel, there’s a lot of these device manufacturers that are coming along and creating devices that you can then use to visualize stuff. Magic Leap is one we’ve been working with for over a year now. They have a very innovative way of projecting light into your eye and creating augmented reality images that have very high visual acuity.

I don’t think in the next few years you’ll have [market] penetration high enough where most of our customers have these devices in their homes. I think at some point in the future, the technology that they’re developing may become fairly commonplace in the world. We need to be researching and at the forefront of that space today because it will be a transformative event in shopping for the home, in our belief.

In the interim period, there will be some really fun, we think exciting, use cases that come along. We’ve created a few for [Magic Leap’s] initial platform. If you’re in your house wearing the device, you can pull things out of the browser experience and put it in your space. You can see what it looks like.

The light projection they do, it’s strong enough you can put a bed on top of a bed. The digital bed will mask out the bed that’s there. You can do some design without having to move your furniture around. It’s a really interesting technology.

We believe at some point, customers will just consider it second nature to be able to pull something off our Web page and just view it, whether it’s through a camera or video feed in their space, or whether it’s through a more advanced device.

X: Wayfair is opening its first physical stores this holiday season, with a pop-up shop in Massachusetts and one in New Jersey. Is the future of retail a hybrid between online stores and brick-and-mortar shops? What does Wayfair look like 10 years from now?

SC: I think bricks-and-mortar retail is going to probably need to be dramatically reshaped from the way it looks today. My hope would be that there is a vast greenfield out there ready to be reaped, that someone, we will figure it out. I’m sure others will find models that work using physical locations as well.

Pop-up shops are an early experiment of, hey, let’s see what we learn from that. Depending on what you learn, it’ll evolve in a certain direction, and you might hit a dead end, and you’ll back out of that one and try a different one. But my belief is that there is probably a very interesting solution that customers would love that you can get in front of them and help them out in different ways.

X: Any thoughts on automation in retail and logistics?

SC: The category we’re in tends to not lend itself to a lot of automation because it’s big, bulky stuff. Our average package is 30 pounds. Amazon’s is like 3. There are definitely categories where automation works very well.

We try to strike a balance of using automation where we can. But at the same time, the nature of the category is one where it’s less friendly to conveyor belts and computer robot picking and small bin sort of stuff.

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