Why a 3D digital transformation strategy is essential to retailers

By Laurie Ainley

2021 was the year digital transformation really took off. According to research by Foundry, 91% of organisations either adopted a digital-first business strategy or expected to do so soon. Companies are investing an average of $16.5 million on digital technologies from moving operations to public clouds, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and data and analytics. However, for organisations that want to future-proof their business, one essential component of their digital transformation strategy can’t be overlooked: 3D.

At Poplar Studio, we firmly believe that a digital transformation strategy is analogous to a 3D digital transformation strategy. Studies show that as many as 92% of 3D adopters today see this technology as a way to add value to their customer experiences. Of these, the vast majority (94%) plan to invest in 3D further after seeing its benefit to customer experiences, marketing, training, and product configuration.

One thing is clear: going forward, 3D can’t be treated as an add-on. Instead, it has to be placed at the centre of any e-commerce strategy. Doing so does not mean inflated budgets, either. A single 3D asset can be reused in a multitude of ways, bringing a host of benefits.

The many use cases for 3D assets

The use cases for 3D assets are many and varied and can depend on your industry, department and project requirements. 

For example, in product design, a digital version of a product allows teams to test a prototype with customers or focus groups before it enters full-scale production. 

Not only can this save money and time time (traditional prototyping can take weeks, months, or even longer), but it also allows for a greater number of iterations, which can ultimately lead to a better product. This is because implementing changes to a 3D model is easier than to a physical prototype. Moreover, digital versions of a product are less expensive to produce than traditional prototypes. 

3d product design
3D product design

These same 3D products can then be used to inform the manufacturing process and for quality assurance, i.e., making sure the end product matches the standards outlined when a project started.

With 3D technology, even before the product is made, you can already market it. Thanks to virtual photography (CGI renders of virtual products), businesses can create promotional materials for their products using 3D models. We’re not just talking about product photos, either. You can also create videos and GIFs—media that tend to do especially well on social media platforms. 

3d virtual product photography
Virtual photography

3D technology also allows customers to virtually try on products while shopping online. Shoppers can either “try on” items like makeup, sneakers, and hats on their bodies, or place products such as furniture in their own environment. 

3D product visualisations and try-ons make it easier for customers to see which products would suit them best based on factors like colour or size. As a result, this can make them feel more confident that they made the right purchase decision and that there will be no surprises when a product arrives. Close to 1 in 2 shoppers say they would be prepared to pay more for a product if they could first see it in 3D/augmented reality (AR). 

On the other hand, for companies, 3D visualisations and try-ons translate into reduced returns and logistics costs. According to Shopify, 3D visualisation decreases returns by 40%

One of the brands that has really embraced 3D digital transformation is IKEA. 3D assets are deeply embedded in all aspects of IKEA’s business. From packaging, prototype, and manufacturing to creative testing to store planning, the home furnishing retailer heavily relies on 3D technology. 

From a customer’s point of view, IKEA has its Place app, which allows shoppers to digitally “place” true-to-scale 3D models of furniture and home decor pieces in their own homes. Within the first six months of the app’s launch, it became the second most popular app on the App Store. 

ikea digital transformation
IKEA’s Place app

IKEA is determined to take its 3D/AR customer offering up a notch. It is currently working on a home visualisation tool that will let smartphone users turn their home into a 3D model in which they’ll be able to place IKEA home products. 

Build once, deploy everywhere

For retailers, a 3D strategy offers an unparalleled competitive advantage. Through technologies such as 3D modelling, photogrammetry, and 2D to 3D conversion, retailers of all sizes can now create 3D models at scale, which can then be distributed across multiple digital spaces:

  • Advertising on Google or social media. 3D renderings of products can be used to create immersive advertising campaigns on platforms such as Google Swirl, as well as interactive social media filters.
  • Virtual photography. Virtual photography can eliminate the need for complex photoshoots, saving retailers both time and money.
  • Google Search. When users search for some products on Google, they may see a 3D version of them. For instance, if you Google Volvo XC90 or S60, you’ll see a 3D model of the car.
  • Virtual try-on and product visualisation on e-commerce stores and apps. Retailers can now enable virtual try-ons and product visualisations straight from their e-commerce stores and apps. 
  • Virtual showrooms. For customers that can’t make it out to an actual showroom or brands that don’t have space for one, virtual showrooms can be an excellent alternative. We recently created a digital showroom for the furniture retailer MADE.com that whisked customers away to a virtual apartment where they could interact with furniture and decor pieces on display. 
  • In-store try-ons. During times of health crises, shoppers may be reluctant to touch items in-store. Conversely, some products may be too difficult and inconvenient to put on (think swimming goggles, wetsuits, etc.) In these instances, virtual try-ons that let customers try on 3D renderings of products can come in handy. For an example, look no further than the AR in-store Speedo experience we designed a few years back. 

We are also beginning to see 3D models being used in livestream shopping, enterprise AR headsets, smart glasses, and the metaverse.

An example of a 3D digital transformation strategy

How can you use the same 3D model on different channels? Let’s take a 3D rendering of a watch as an example.

A watch retailer could use 3D models to create photorealistic digital renders (i.e., virtual photography) of its watch collection. In this way, it could save both money and time on photoshoots.

3d watch

Virtual photography also allows for customisation. For example, if a customer is looking at a watch and is wondering how it would look with a different colour strap or watch face, they can quickly customise it.

The 3D model of the kids’ Neo watch created by Vodafone in collaboration with Disney allowed users to choose between different Disney characters for their face watch. 

3d disney vodafone neo watch
Vodafone and Disney’s Neo Kids Smart Watch

As well as that, a 3D asset of a watch can be used to create a more engaging ad experience. 

We recently worked with RADO Watches to design a Google Swirl ad for their RADO Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic watch. Unlike a traditional ad, this campaign made it possible for users to rotate the watch to see what it looked like from all angles and sides and zoom in and out of its unique features.

Finally, a 3D model of a watch can be paired with AR to turn it into a virtual try-on experience. 

Retailers that want to capitalise on the popularity of social media and social commerce can create social AR filters. That’s exactly what Samsung did in mid-2021 when it released an AR version of its Galaxy Watch 3. Users could try on different watch faces and straps, interact with the watch, and, if they liked the way it looked on them, click the “shop” button to be taken directly to the Samsung website to buy it. 

3D digital transformation strategy
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 virtual try-on experience

Of course, retailers can also embed a virtual try-on watch experience into their own website, where users can try it on before purchase. Here’s what our watch try-on solution looks like:

Get started with your own 3D digital transformation strategy

Although “3D digital transformation” may sound like a complex process, it doesn’t have to be. As demonstrated in this blog post, any business can quickly and easily embed 3D within its e-commerce strategy regardless of its size, budget, or industry. 

To get started, all you need is a single 3D model. From there, your options are limitless. Whether you choose to create virtual product photos, interactive ads, AR try-on experiences, or something else altogether, you can be guaranteed to cut down on your expenses, reduce returns, and delight your customers.

Want to talk about creating 3D models and AR experiences for your brand? Drop us a line today, and we’ll help you prepare for a successful 3D digital transformation strategy.

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