Product imagery, done right, can drive retail sales into the stratosphere. But as many companies know, product imagery “done right” is done for less. Thanks to recent advances in 3D technology, companies like Nike and Apple are leading a move away from expensive product photography toward premier-quality 3D renders. According to Brand3D CEO Hans Hansen, however, taking a measured approach to retail, and specifically to presenting products to a hyperdigital audience, is the best way to go.
3D technology for online shopping has been developing in a somewhat sideways fashion over the year, said Hansen. In 2016 there was a great deal of hype around VR and Facebook/Oculus. While the hype intensified again during the pandemic — much of it around Facebook/Meta — overall the buzz isn’t what it once was.
“Everyone’s still waiting for that VR revolution,” said Hansen, “We’ve heard lately from Mark Zuckerberg about his ‘Metaverse’ as a common denominator for all things 3D, but there remain many missing links in the realization of this vision.”
Practical Use 3D
The way forward for 3D technology as it relates to selling products, said Hansen, appears to be in taking a “down to earth” approach, where the technology is used to enhance existing Web2.0 ecommerce experiences.
“The Web3.0-powered Metaverse vision touted by the Zuckerbergs of the world is of no practical use to retailers in 2022. We at Brand3D are using technology not to build up a metaverse but to create 3D “mini-metaverses’ on sites that can be accessed using any browser on any device, whether that’s a PC, a tablet, or a smartphone.”
Brand3D’s technology is based on the rapidly evolving WebGL standard, backed by virtually every large technology company as well as major retailers. This lightweight technology framework allows for 3D experiences where a full 3D scene can be embedded into a standard, no-frills web page in much the same way a YouTube video or an animated GIF image is embedded. The 3D experience can, in turn, be embedded into virtually any ecommerce platform using a single line of code.
Brand3D, which is focused on the Canadian and American markets, has had to adjust to life and business during the global pandemic. While in some ways it has been a great challenge, in other ways the great disruption has brought new opportunities.
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Hansen pointed to luxury goods as one bright area for Brand3D.
“While we have had a downturn in many areas, there has been a pickup in luxury goods purchases since 2020. This plays in our favour. During the pandemic — and after it goes — we will have had a considerable chunk of retail activity move to online and home delivery.”
“We saw this through our work with IMP Digital, a digital marketing agency based in Burlington, Ont. that we helped create online 3D experiences for luxury goods retailers. One example of such an experience is a virtual jacuzzi. Customers who pre-pandemic would have just went to an outlet and seen demonstrations of features in-store can now have a reasonably full in-store experience without even leaving their home.”
Hansen said Brand3D, at its core, is in the business of making the abstruse and perhaps even tedious both accessible and enjoyable. Product videos, he said, is one area where 3D makes a night-and-day difference.
Brand3D was approached in 2018 by Motorola, who was about to launch a new baby alarm. The product was highly advanced, with dual screens (hardware screen and a smartphone app), a temperature-sensing mechanism, an LED projector, and even audio to play lullabies for babies.
“We’re talking 57 features in all — very impressive,” said Hansen. “Motorola showcased these features in a YouTube video, but as analytics later showed, few prospective customers had the patience to sit through the entire 37-minute presentation.”
Brand3D swapped out the YouTube presentation with a web-based experience featuring a nursery with a crib and with a baby alarm installed over an avatar baby. Using interactive 3D, visitors could stimulate any of the 57 product features simply by clicking around on the virtual products, to see each feature “in action” in the 3D scene. Motorola was able to track every interaction, and use analytics to evaluate the importance of different features.
“Visitor feedback to the product team in real-time,” said Hansen.
Focus on the Possible
Hansen conceded that, like any technology, there is a ceiling to what 3D technology can do. But in 2022, it’s a technology that is just beginning to come into its own. However, he said many companies have challenges to overcome. Cost remains a definite factor.
“Producing 3D content can be costly. What companies like ours are seeking to do is democratize the process for businesses — to help them build compelling interactive 3D experiences around their products and services without difficulty or high expense.”
Hansen believes there is a massive opportunity to do one-on-one sales of luxury goods in particular, but that not nearly enough retailers are taking advantage.
“In China, which in my estimation is leagues ahead of the West when it comes to using technology in retail, luxury goods sales has long been a ‘personal experience,’ where sales are closed using direct live streaming of demos and sales events to customers’ PCs or mobile devices.”
“We at Brand3D see 3D virtualization playing a big role, linking merchants to prospective customers via compelling interactive experiences. 3D technology allows retailers to offer that one-on-one sales ‘feeling’ without the need to recruit a giant global sales force. It’s a win-win — you give customers the experience they deserve and reduce your overheads. At a time like this, who could ask for anything more?”