Follow the Data, Go with 3D in Retail

  • A 40% improvement in conversion rates
  • Returns at less than 2%
  • AR furniture apps in use every 90 seconds

With numbers like these, it’s hard not to get excited about the promise of 3D in retail. Customers are demanding choice across the board, and are being conditioned to get it by both retailers and aggregator sites, who are learning that when they provide more ways to see and customize products, the better it is for everyone.

According to Boston Consulting Group, 45% of marketers are in experimental mode with AR, and 35% plan to use it in the future. Over 100 retailers including West Elm and Crate & Barrel are following IKEA’s lead, creating 3D replicas for themselves and using independent design tools like Modsy. Aggregators like Wayfair and Overstock have also gotten into the swing of things, ramping up 3D offerings for both clients and customers.

And that’s just publicly available information. Behind the scenes, furniture analytics are pointing to an even brighter future for 3D in retail. After years of tracking everything that leads to a purchase, major retailers are finding that in addition to 3D tools (imagery, configurators, apps, etc.), the biggest driver of consumer action is lifestyle photos.

Which makes sense. When you see how products interact with a space, you get a better view into how that product might fit into your life. Firms are using a combination of 3D, product photography and user-submitted content to fill this demand. But all of it has a lifespan.

How to Maintain Consumer Interest

What most of us don’t know is that we tend to exhibit the same traits when we are browsing online. Lifestyle photos might carry some of the highest interest on a site, but usually only for six months. The trick to maintaining interest is to switch out the imagery. Anything else and customers will start seeing your site as static and boring, whether they explicitly realize it or not. And when that happens, they leave. Sometimes forever.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have known this for years, and have purposefully changed out the vignettes in their stores to promote dynamism. New pieces are coming in, new looks are being considered. But when it comes to online sales, the real bottleneck is product photography, which can quickly add up to $10K a shoot under the best of conditions. This leaves a massive gap built for 3D in retail. When photorealistic models can be swapped in and out of scenes with ease, lifestyle shots can be created at will. All you need are the models.

Store vs. Manufacturer Dilemma

On-demand models would also help solve another industry grievance that prevents many furniture retailers from providing consistency between their website and showroom. Right now, it’s not uncommon to see vignettes filled with products from different manufacturers. Not beholden to product lines and limited by space, stores design to specific styles that will intrigue customers, sometimes with the goal of selling a complete vignette to people who don’t want to design rooms piecemeal. In store, this is simple; online, it’s another story.

As you’d expect, manufacturers aren’t driven by vignette packages. They want to sell product lines and will only provide images of their furniture. So, what do stores do? They host their own photo shoots if they can afford it, or suffer in silence as their website and showroom don’t match. If they had a 3D team, this wouldn’t be an issue. They could model the pieces or request 3D replicas from manufacturers to create their images. Right now, the latter is a tough ask. But with more and more firms seeing the value in 3D sales techniques, some of this is just a waiting game.

While you’re waiting, set up your infrastructure. There is nothing as attuned to the trends of personalization and choice as this striking little medium. But make no mistake, it comes with a learning curve.

So, what do retailers need to be successful?

A good content team – Creating assets can either be done in house or through dedicated studios. Nine times out of ten, you’ll want photorealistic output, so find artists that can replicate the nuances of your products. You’ll get more out of them.

Multi-use designs – If a company wants to take advantage of all 3D in retail has to offer – configurators, VR/AR, stills, animations, etc. – they should create assets that can be used across platforms and applications. Where most companies get jammed up is when they create for only one purpose, which ends up costing them additional time and money.

Organized assets – As crazy as it sounds, until recently there were no 3D asset management systems on the market. Without order, assets are often scattered across drives and lacking grouped file formats, all of which is confusing to marketing teams considering building 3D into their campaigns. Today, this is solvable. But the foundation should be in place from the beginning.

Archives – For fashion and furniture companies, everything comes back. Keeping an archival system in place that logs models and designs can make life easier if customer preferences start cycling back around.

It’s a process, but with a little planning and a lot of vision, you can start influencing your customers in every space imaginable with 3D in retail – which is only going to become more valuable when the first shops start opening up in Facebook Horizon.

Matt Wisdom is co-founder and CEO of TurboSquid