Freeflow Spas user generated AR spa

Reality Revolution

How augmented reality is overhauling the spa buying experience

Hot Spring Spas Virtual View AR

Augmented reality is quickly making its mark in the world of business. The spa industry has jumped into augmented reality full force, and with good reason: AR gives potential customers the chance to see spas in their own space before ever bringing them home, a feature that can increase sales.

Bullfrog Spas was first in the industry to add augmented reality to assist customers in their hot tub selection process. Jake Ricks, director of marketing for Bullfrog Spas in Salt Lake City, says the company started using a virtual reality program at trade shows and in dealer showrooms in 2016.

In 2018, Bullfrog moved into a segment that was more accessible to the public: augmented reality. “Because of our experience in VR,” Ricks says, “we had the understanding to quickly launch an AR experience to make our virtual products appear in the real world via phones, as soon as browsers began to support this function natively on iOS and Android devices.”

At Freeflow Spas, the AR experience is a new one. Launched in January 2021, the Freeflow Spas Augmented Reality Experience took about four months to get off the ground. Kristin Sedgwick, brand manager for Freeflow Spas & Fantasy Spas (Watkins Wellness brands) in Vista, California, says the process started with building 3D models and evolved to a full AR experience that was then tested across different platforms, devices and browsers.

During testing, the team fine-tuned details to enhance the customer experience, and development continues. “We’ve been making adjustments to it as we learn how people are engaging with the AR to ensure it’s delivering on the experience we want our customers to have,” Sedgwick says.

Hot Spring Spas is another Watkins Wellness brand joining the AR space, launching the Hot Spring AR app in June. Seven months of testing allowed developers to tweak the user experience, explains Cori Landwehr, senior manager of customer experience with Watkins Wellness in Vista, California. Landwehr says ensuring the spas scaled correctly within the app and perfecting the details of how the units showed up were both important.

While these three tools have augmented reality in common, they each function a little differently. Bullfrog Spas customers use their smartphones to visit the company’s website, browse the spa models and select one to view in their backyard.

Sedgwick says the Freeflow Spas experience is simple to activate. “If they are on a mobile device, as we know the majority of our site visitors are, they can pull up the AR [through the mobile browser] and start placing a spa in their space right away,” she explains. Alternatively, if customers are on a desktop computer, they click ‘View in Your Space’ from any model page, then scan the QR code that pops up from a mobile device to initiate the AR experience.

The Hot Spring app can be downloaded from either Apple or GooglePlay. The app launches with a tutorial that guides users through the process of selecting and placing a hot tub, Landwehr says. Once they’re ready to test a spa, users select their preferred model and details, then point their device at the spot they’d like the hot tub to be located.

  There are a number of reasons AR fits the spa industry. Ricks says hot tubs aren’t exactly built for the try-before-you-buy experience consumers love, but AR gives them that option. “AR helps you place the life-size spa, see if it fits with your home or landscaping, see if it fits physically, and just generally get more comfortable with how a spa will work with your home and yard,” he adds.

Sedgwick says the AR programs are convenient for dealers because no one has unlimited showroom space to showcase every model in person.

“A customer now has the option to explore all 10 spas in each of the color combinations, giving them access to more information and a more personal shopping experience than ever before,” Sedgwick says. “It doesn’t replace the pre-site inspection, but using AR can eliminate certain models from consideration if the space available is bigger or smaller than a customer realizes.” Some dealers have also relayed that AR is helping them sell larger models customers didn’t think would work in their spaces.

AR also addresses the homeowner’s desire to shop from home, Landwehr says. Dealers can create more engagement by including information about the app in their lead nurturing efforts, she adds.

Overall, augmented reality appears to be shaking up the industry in a positive way, offering more convenience, more information and more fun. “There’s a significant ‘wow’ factor involved,” Ricks says. “When it’s you doing the wowing, it puts you in a good position to stand out from competition.”