3d product configurator

How a 3D product configurator can grow your e-commerce store

By Cristina Ferrandez

£178 billion. That’s how much online retailers lost to returns in 2021. To put it another way, for every £823 million in sales last year, around £135 million worth of goods were returned. 

For e-commerce stores, returns have always been a huge problem. Studies show that 20% of products bought over the internet end up being sent back. In comparison, only 9% of items purchased in a brick-and-mortar store are ever returned. 

Many guides have been written on how retailers can reduce online returns. From high-quality images and accurate descriptions to customer reviews and size guides, there is no shortage of steps e-commerce stores can take to limit product returns. Except, none of them seem to be working. The rate of returns last year was even worse than it was in 2020. 

There is one more thing that online retailers can try. It’s called a 3D product configurator, and it has been proven to reduce returns, improve engagement, and increase conversions. Pair it with augmented reality (AR) for the ultimate e-commerce sales tool. 

What is a product configurator?

A product configurator is an interactive software technology solution that allows customers to make customisations to a product (or rather, a 2D or 3D model of a product) they’re viewing in real-time. A product configurator typically displays all possible variations of a product.

With a product configurator, shoppers don’t have to rely on text descriptions to get a better sense of a product they’re interested in. Instead, they can see what a particular item will look like if they change its size, colour, finish, etc., prior to purchasing it. 

Product configurators can also be invaluable for brands that let shoppers personalise their products. This is what KitchenAid’s online product configurator looks like: 

KitchenAid’s product configurator
KitchenAid’s product configurator

Note that customers can customise not only the colour of the mixer itself and choose an extra bowl they think would work best with the mixer, but also engrave the mixer with their chosen text. 

Product configurators are typically accessible from various different devices, including mobile phones, desktops, tablets, etc.

What features are available in product configurators?

Most product configurators are 2D. With a 2D product configurator, users can see how a particular product would look if it:

  • Came in a different size.
  • Was of a different colour.
  • Was made from different materials. 
  • Featured personalised text and/or graphics.

For example, the Italian cosmetics brand Kiko Milano lets shoppers customise their products, like lipsticks, mascaras, etc., by changing their colour and adding embellishments (pre-designed icons and custom text).

Kiko Milano’s 2D product configurator
Kiko Milano’s 2D product configurator

For more elaborate products that are customisable, product configurators can let customers personalise the product based on their own style and preferences. 

Some brands even make this their USP. On their website, the Bamford Watch Department says they were “born of a desire to re-discover the lost art of personalisation in an age of mass production” and that they “offer a bespoke customisation service that harks back to the boutique craftsmen of the past.” This service is made much easier with a 2D product configurator:

Bamford Watch Department’s 2D product configurator
Bamford Watch Department’s 2D product configurator

However, 2D configurators only display flat visualisations of products. For brands that want to take it up a notch, the next step is 3D configurators and augmented reality (AR).

What is a 3D product configurator? 

3D brings additional engagement and interaction to product configurators. Whereas 2D product configurators limit users to static images, with a 3D product configurator customers can actively interact with a 3D model of a product (i.e., rotate it, zoom in and out, turn it upside down, etc.). 

This gives customers a better sense of what a product looks like and lowers their hesitation. Unsurprisingly, research shows that when users interact with a 3D product configurator, they are 66% more likely to be engaged when compared to 2D tools.  

3D product configurators particularly shine when paired with AR because they create the closest experiences to shopping in-store. E-commerce stores can offer one of two things through AR:

  1. Virtual try-on. Using their smartphone’s front-facing camera, a customer can virtually overlay configurable products, like clothes, makeup, shoes, jewellery, etc., on their person to see if a specific item will suit them. 
  2. Product visualisation. Using their smartphone’s back-facing camera, customers can “place” products in their environment to determine if they will fit the space.

Either way, when brands pair a 3D configurator with AR, they make it easier for customers to see how their products will fit into their world. 

Not only does this increase conversion rates by a whopping 94%, but it also decreases returns. After introducing an AR function on its website, the online home improvement retailer Build.com found that users who interacted with AR were 22% less likely to send items back than those who purchased the exact same product but did not use AR. 

What brands are already using product configurators? 

Below are just some of the brands already using product configurators to inspire customers and reduce returns. 


Nike is no stranger to personalisation. The brand launched NikeID all the way back in 2000, a service that lets customers design and personalise their own Nike products. Since rebranded as “Nike By You”, the service makes it easy for shoppers to tailor Nike’s most popular sneakers to reflect their unique style and taste.

Depending on the sneaker a customer chooses to make their own, they can customise almost every part of the shoe, from the base and the swoosh to the outsole, laces, and even the eyelets. 

Nike By You from Nike
Nike By You from Nike

Customers can spin the shoe model around and look at it from all angles and sides to determine if what they’ve “created” matches their vision. 

Ridley Bikes

Ridley is sometimes referred to as the “brand of product innovation”, so it’s no surprise that their online website has a product configurator that lets customers build their dream bike. 

Using the configurator, cycling enthusiasts can choose one of Ridley’s available bike models and then personalise it by choosing their favourite colour, finish, and other components, like the wheels, saddle, handlebar width, etc. 

Ridley Bikes’ product configurator incorporates AR
Ridley Bikes’ product configurator incorporates AR

When they’re done, customers can see the bike they’ve designed in AR. This can give them a better idea of what the bike will look like and if it will fit their space before one of Ridley’s mechanics actually builds it. 


Murus Art, a seller of contemporary art prints and paintings, wanted to make it easier for customers to determine if an art piece they were eyeing would fit their space. So they partnered with Poplar Studio to create a 3D product visualiser that worked in AR. 

Working with Murus, we turned their entire product catalogue of around 800 paintings into true-to-scale 3D models that could be viewed in AR. When customers browsing the site come across a painting they like, they can see how it will look in their home by tapping the “View On Your Wall” call-to-action. 

Murus’ 3D and AR painting visualisation
Murus’ 3D and AR painting visualisation

Since Murus has implemented the AR experience, more than 12% of its online revenue has come from customers who interacted with the 3D product visualiser.

Right now, each painting is visualised in a white frame that Murus also sells. In the near future, Murus hopes to include additional frames in the AR experience, allowing customers to see not only how a painting would look on their wall but also what frame it would look best in. 

Get your own 3D product configurator

As more and more people shop online, e-commerce stores will need to contend with the fact that the product return rate, which is already high, will rise even further. 

Even though online shopping can be more convenient, for customers, browsing an e-commerce site is not the same as shopping in a physical store, not least because it’s hard to visualise how a product on a screen will look or fit in real life. 

The good news is that a 3D product configurator can take the guesswork out of shopping on the internet. This is especially true if it’s paired with AR. When a customer can interact with a product and even visualise it on themselves or in their own environment, the chances of them making a mistake and having to send a product back are much slimmer. 

Building a 3D product configurator starts with turning your product catalogue into 3D models. With years of experience in the 3D and AR space, Poplar Studio can help you digitise your products and make them available in AR. Get in touch with us today. 

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