Commune: Retail revolution

Furniture shopping just got cool with a new virtual reality software that enables you to design your future home in a heartbeat.

Ever fallen in love with a couch but hesitated to sign for it because you couldn’t tell if it fits your living room?

Commune, a Koda subsidiary, has launched a new 3D Floorplanner and virtual reality experience software—a first in the Singapore retail scene. It allows shoppers to “walk through” their homes in 3D, fully furnished, eliminating common concerns about space and design.

Joshua Koh, chief financial officer of Commune, said that the technology also secures a higher chance of a sales closure.

Joshua Koh, chief financial officer of Commune

“When customers are more confident about the design and sizing perspective of their homes, they are more likely to spend as a result,” he said. However he concedes that this does not lead to a “sure buy”.

The VR technology is the product of more than two years of research and development with scientists from A*STAR, a government-linked research and technology arm. It addresses retail space constraints as only a few items need to be displayed in a store; the rest can be packed away on an unlimited virtual floor space. It means that furniture retailers can now afford to re-locate from the sprawling suburbs to smaller units downtown to reach more customers.

The launch last October coincided with the store’s five-year anniversary. The technology will be available in all four of its retail outlets in Singapore by the end of 2016 and will be marketed to all 39 franchises in Asia.

What comes next is no surprise: Expansion in China with plans to increase the number of retail outlets from 35 to 100 in the next two years to target the burgeoning mid-upper consumer class.

Immersive, intimate shopping

As successors to his grandfather’s furniture manufacturing business, Joshua and his generation have been tasked to grow Commune. His brother Julian takes care of design and branding; his cousin Shee Wen Gan is responsible for sales and marketing. While design has always been central to the business model, the young bosses are now leaping into a new dimension: experiential shopping.

In fact, they have been experimenting with it for years. (Rolling out a virtual experience was just one of its many approaches.) The Experience Centre in Defu Lane starts off with a mood boarding wall, followed by a personalised store tour to find furniture that match.

One of Commune’s strategies for a holistic retail experience includes a mood board for shoppers to mix and match design, colours and themes.

A collection of furniture in American hardwoods displayed in Commune’s Experience Centre at 28 Defu Lane 4. 

An information wall offers insight to the Commune design philosophy, production methods, as well as product care and sustainability to assure customers about their buying decisions.

All stores across Singapore smell the same—a scent developed with Oo La Lab, one of its many partners. Other collaborations include Lamitek, Nippon Paint and K Blu. Commune taps on their in-store product placements to provide a holistic shopper experience.

The furniture business is no longer just about moving products off the shelves, said Joshua. It is also a lifestyle and concept, as well as “making Commune something customers can identify as part of their everyday lives.”

Looking back, Joshua remarked, “I think we are quite successful for a five-year-old establishment but there is still a long way to go.”

With no retail experience in the beginning, they had to learn everything from scratch; from handling customer feedback to sales and promotional strategies.

These days, the design team is studying consumer behaviour to design space-saving and multi-functional furniture for pigeon-hole apartments. Somewhere down the road, smart furniture will also be part of its portfolio.


This article was first published in the Panels & Furniture Asia [Jan/Feb issue]