Magnolia Market Uses Augmented Reality in Ecommerce to Bridge Online-to-Offline

Magnolia Market Uses Augmented Reality in Ecommerce to Bridge Online-to-Offline
  • Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines operate one of Texas’ most iconic and successful retail destinations, a sprawling shopping complex tourists flock to in Waco 
  • To bring its offline experience to the web, Magnolia teamed with Shopify to create a robust storefront and an augmented reality app that lets users view products in stunning 3D
  • “What’s cool about working with Shopify Plus,” says Magnolia’s Stone Crandall, “is that we’re able to evolve to meet the needs of this growing business.”

It’s late summer, 2017, and Stone Crandall is inside the office of Joanna Gaines, Fixer Upper co-star and co-founder of Magnolia — the famed home and lifestyle brand from Waco, Texas.

Magnolia’s digital experience director has a surprise. Alongside his development team, which over four years helped evolve the home outfitter from its offline roots into the growing ecommerce presence it enjoys today, Crandall had for many months been working on the company’s next big thing.

He places a blue vase on Gaines’ desk, takes a photo of it, and then holds up his phone. On his screen, the vase appears elsewhere in the company’s headquarters. Presuming it’s simply the earlier photo Crandall had snapped, Gaines gives a nod of approval.

But then, the reveal. “Well, that’s not really there,” Crandall says. “I virtually placed that.”

There is a moment of confusion until it hits home.

Though it was only in a development stage at the time, this was an early look at Magnolia Market’s augmented reality (AR) app, which would allow users to view 3D models of the company’s products as if placed anywhere in their homes, anywhere in the world.

It became, upon its release later in the year, a new frontier for Magnolia’s evolving commitment to ecommerce, further confirmation that this brand saw technology as the way to grow the company’s online bona fides right alongside its real-world footprint.

“I think Joanna’s reaction was the same as anybody else’s,” Crandall says. “You put your hand in front of it, and you’re like, ‘It doesn’t make sense. It’s not really there.’ You begin to think, ‘This is kind of wild. This is incredible.’”

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‘Were we gangbusters out of the gate? I would say no’

In 2015, some two years after their television debut, the Gaines opened Magnolia Market at the Silos – a sprawling retail complex in Waco that has become as much tourist destination as a point of transaction.

Magnolia Markets at the Silos isn't just shopping -- there, you can find food trucks and all kinds of community activities

Their brick-and-mortar arm has always driven its overall brand experience, but Magnolia felt its ecommerce operation also had the capacity to deliver that same attention to detail.

“It’s all relative to scale, but with an ecommerce app, it’s certainly not like you just turn a key, put the lights on, and then right away you’re just crushing it,” says Crandall. “Were we gangbusters right out of the gate? I would say no, but that’s not how we approach things. Our focus is all on the details.”

The overall guest experience is priority number one, and we knew it would take some time to really get things to a place we felt was consistent with our vision.

Ecommerce Grew Right Alongside the Brand

Magnolia’s ecommerce life began with a modest team. One person for customer service, and to answer phones. Another to ship boxes, and load products online …

Now look at all this company has become: more than 750 employees, of which the number that overlap with the brand’s ecommerce efforts is too high to count.

“To a certain extent, there’s definitely a start-up mentality of sorts,” says Crandall. “It’s about asking questions and not being afraid to reinvent or totally scrap the status quo. It’s about not going home until you’re proud of the work you’ve done, and that’s the kind of mentality that’s encouraged here across the board.”

Most remarkably, for all the Magnolia brand has exploded, ecommerce has flourished right in step with its overall growth.

But the company’s online expansion was not to proceed unless it fell in line with one important ideal: the overall experience of Magnolia Market’s web store had to rightly reflect the feel of shopping at its brick-and-mortar location at the Silos.

The Silos have become a tourist attraction, reporting drawing more annual visitors in the state of Texas than even the Alamo

This was no easy feat.

The Gainses had crafted a retail setting so uncommon that guests of Fixer Upper make it nearly a pilgrimage to visit. Last year, the Waco Tribune reported the Silos would attract more visitors in the state of Texas than even the Alamo.

Such were the stakes of getting Magnolia Market’s online presence just right.

It has been done tirelessly, through untold hours spent laboring over every detail of the site.

“With Shopify, it’s really easy to get things up and running,” Crandall says. “With the app, for example, that level of collaboration is a huge advantage when you’re really focused on opening a new sales channel.”

Magnolia Market Uses Augmented Reality In Ecommerce To Bridge Online-To-Offline

‘I don’t even know which one is real and which one isn’t’

Chief among the ways Magnolia Market’s site has come to life is through AR.

The Magnolia team was nothing short of obsessive in its pursuit of the most realistic AR app it could build. No detail was too small to address, no imperfection too trivial to correct.

It was an arduous process, guided by Shopify’s AR team, but for Magnolia doing so otherwise was a non-starter.

“When it came time to initially launch the app, we all looked at each other like, ‘You know what? I don’t think it’s quite ready,’” says Crandall. “And that level of attention to detail starts at the top and trickles down. ‘What’s the deal with this color, or with how this thing moves and fits?’ We had to make tweaks and changes to get it right where we wanted.”

As the months wore on, the fruits of this labor began to reveal themselves.

The reality of the Magnolia Market products rendered through Apple’s ARKit was startling.

“We’ve seen videos of an ARKit product next to an actual product,” Crandall says, “and there are times where I don’t even know which one is real and which one isn’t.”

Magnolia Market Uses Augmented Reality In Ecommerce To Bridge Online-To-Offline

Bringing the Silos Experience Online

Augmented reality has fortified Magnolia Market’s ecommerce arm, its commitment to online as a key driver of company growth.

At the heart of anything the company does in ecommerce is one single truth: its brand experience has to be totally aligned across all channels.

In this capacity, Magnolia has found Shopify Plus to be an able partner for its Magnolia Market ecommerce campaign. Above all, the company needed to ensure it could control how the customer interacted with its brand in the precise way a guest would at the Silos.

Not everyone could visit Waco, nor could they handle Magnolia Market’s products in their hands to reach a decision before buying. This was an opportunity the home furnishing and lifestyle brand leaned on Shopify Plus to help find an alternative for.

AR was the solution. The possibility to render its products into its app with the highest-possible 3D photo-realism is an unbelievable asset for this company to stand out among its peers, which have also entered the AR space.

A better-quality augmented reality experience is the kind of thing Magnolia Market wants its guests to remember when they use its app.

“It’s so important for us that, whether you’re physically here in Waco or visiting us online, we’re able to capture the finer details of the overall experience to really reflect the true spirit of Magnolia,” says Crandall.

“Across the board, we want to make sure that we do express those finer details of the in-store experience online. And so augmented reality, obviously as it pertains to Shopify, really makes that possible.”

Magnolia Market Uses Augmented Reality In Ecommerce To Bridge Online-To-Offline

Brand Experience Controlled, Even at Scale

Crandall looks fondly at that day back in 2017, when he stepped into Gaines’ office and gave an early look at this new AR app.

Its abilities on display surprised even her, the idea that this virtual product could seamlessly exhibit what she wanted Magnolia Market’s products to look like – to feel like – online.

The brand experience is controlled, even at scale like this. No matter that its growth is nearly unmatched in the home and lifestyle space, Magnolia relishes that its ecommerce operation allows it to remain a business full with the intimacy and intentionality it was founded upon.

“You kind of start as this out-of-the-box Shopify client.” says Crandall, “But as you grow, and as needs arise, what’s cool about working with Shopify Plus is that we’re able to take what we’re doing and evolve to meet the needs of this growing business.”

About the Author

Jason Buckland is a content marketer at Shopify Plus. His feature writing has appeared in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Playboy, Time, the Toronto Star and elsewhere.