September 24, 2022

Farmhousecafetaos

Home Improvement

Q&A: How can retailers create a more seamless e-commerce experience using technology?

12 min read

Furniture Today spoke with several technology companies that have clients in the home furnishings industry about what new updates/enhancements manufacturers and retailers should be taking advantage of in order to offer a more seamless e-commerce experience for consumers.

Amra Tareen, CEO  and co-founder, All3D

With recent updates in 3D technologies including depth sensors in phones (such as Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro), AR kit framework and AI/machine learning, both retailers and manufacturers can take advantage of the following applications and use cases:

Create realistic low-cost 3D models of products and spaces: The technology is at a point where 3D models can be created using an iPhone. However, it still requires a human in the loop to fill the gaps in the raw scanned data consisting of an object’s geometry and textures. These models of products and spaces can be used to show products in environments that represent different consumer segments and tastes where they can picture themselves in these environments.  This increases conversion as well as the consumer feeling confident about their purchase.

AI-powered, semantics-based recommendation engines: Consumers can scan their space using the iPhone, and the retailer can provide an application where the AI recommends and decorates the room automatically based on previous data sets of furniture, spaces and design layouts (templates) similar to the consumer’s scanned room.  The engine can also recognize the style and architecture of the room to base its recommendations on in addition to the dimensions and floor plan of the room. It recognizes where architectural elements like the window and doors and light fixtures are located and designs (rendered) accordingly.

Sketch to design:  Product development teams at manufactures can use their hand-drawn sketches, and AI technology can convert the sketches into 3D models and product imagery even before a physical sample is ever created.

Analytics to test market demand & AI/data-driven product design: Retailers or manufacturers can test demand for a new furniture item without creating a physical sample and design virtually with AI machine’s help.  The machine generates the furniture items from sketches using the library of 3D product parts or the machine generates a sample to start with based on real-world consumer data. The product designer may also guide the machine and define boundaries.  The virtual samples are tested with consumers. The machine learns from consumers clicking on the A/B tests and generates the furniture item with the most popular color and parts that the consumers interact with.

Dalia Lasaite, CEO and co-founder, CGTrader

For furniture retailers and manufacturers, the global pandemic made e-commerce the primary channel for acquiring furniture. But even long before, furniture companies had already started looking for ways to bridge the gap between the real and digital shopping experience as e-commerce took off.
The combination of 3D with AR technology is a game-changer in presenting products to end-users, helping them to see and interact with products in their environment in real-time. Using the “view-in-room” feature, shoppers can experience products from any angle in their space, giving a better understanding of a product’s size and fit.

AR experiences allow users to get important questions answered: Will the item fit in this space? How will it match the surroundings? This has a significant impact on purchase confidence, leading to higher conversions, lower returns, and ultimately, a more seamless and engaging shopping experience.

Another catalyst where 3D and AR technology experienced the biggest leap was after it became web-native on Android and iOS. We have also witnessed increased investment in 3D and AR applications from global companies such as Snap, Google, and Facebook, aimed at speeding up the technology development process. This level of investment elevates interest and R&D in these technologies, which may spur another major enhancement in the near term.

In recent times, however, there have been few major new improvements as the focus is towards making 3D modeling faster. For example, CGTrader ARsenal now uses AI to streamline 3D modeling processes, which will make 3D modeling even more cost-effective in the future.

For our customers, that will mean lower-cost product visuals and an even faster time to market. As the transition from traditional photography to 3D gains momentum, speed is vital to support the viability of 3D as the main method of product visualization in the near future.

Cook Liao, president, Coohom

E-commerce revenue in North America amounted to more than $500 billion in 2020, and it will hit $600 billion in 2021. That trend shows no signs of stopping.

This demands an all-in-one solution combining AR and VR experiences that leverage cutting-edge AI and 3D rendering technologies with a comprehensive customer journey that takes them from interest, to sampling, to putting products in their carts and completing the transaction; all from one website.

Combining a compelling experience with interactivity that creates convenience for the increasingly online consumer (and valuable market data for the organizations running these platforms) will be imperative for anyone wishing to take their retail business into 2021, and beyond.

Aleksandar Atanasov, head of marketing, Cylindo

The minimum viable experience that customers expect today is convenience, speed and remarkable customer service. There’s no sacrifice and trade-off you can make on any of these.

Let’s not forget that technology is just a means to an end. There’s a mantra that the forwarding-thinking companies follow, that sets them apart from the rest of the market. It’s simple, but it’s not easy:  Start with the customer.

While these tech-savvy companies might have “digital” engraved as part of their DNA, the main reason they succeed is that they realized they need to work backward and start by designing the best customer experiences they need to deliver.
Here’s a quick formula: Obsess over the ultimate customer experience aligned with your sense of purpose and brand essence. Make sure you have the right strategies, systems and processes in place. Use technology to support that CX (customer experience). It’s almost impossible to serve, delight and then retain loyal customers without the use of technology and software.

Use data storytelling to make informed decisions about improvements, but don’t forget to act on it.

Once you have that strategy around a holistic view of the best CX you want to deliver for your B2B or B2C audience, you can make decisions around the best technology to support it.

And knowing that customers expect nothing less than a stellar shopping experience, makes 3D product visualization and AR table-stakes solutions.

Our retailer partners and DTC brands report that they see an improved conversion by 18% to 49% on average and increase AOV by 47% to 89% after implementing 3D and AR.

EQ3, a Canadian retailer who works with Cylindo, shared that they have seen in customer surveys how AR is referenced as a common reason for purchase completion. The web AR vs. mobile app is not even a discussion for most retailers. On the other hand, we noticed that more manufacturers started to care about designing a customer-centered experience to meet and answer the needs of the dual audience, the end customer and their dealers/retailers and designers.

The best brands are aware that supporting retailers with better visualization and 3D models to stay relevant and empowering reps and designs with powerful virtual B2B selling tools is a must.

Knowing that high-quality 3D experiences is what customers already expect to see on a product page today means that companies need to prioritize their investment around future proof technologies and product visualization platforms.
They are looking for ways to be able to leverage their 3D asset library across the entire buyer journey: shopping feeds and checkout thumbnails, Google (shopping) ads, floor planning solutions, in-store kiosks, virtual consultations and many other visualization use cases.

Some of our best clients we partner with, reuse their 3D assets for at least five to six additional product visualization use cases and different touchpoints where customers interact with the brand with the goal of educating and inspiring them.

Pawel Ciach, CEO and co-founder, Intiaro

There are two areas that manufacturers and retailers should consider. First is the enormous impact on the 3D industry as it relates to developments on the hardware front, namely the Graphical Processing Units speed and capabilities. The amazing progress in this area has enabled us to generate photorealistic renderings in a fraction of the time that it used to years ago. What once required hours of processing time can now be achieved in less than one second.

This creates incredible opportunities in terms of what capabilities 3D visualization platforms embracing this new hardware could offer but also drives down the cost of 3D technology. And while there is a consensus among the furniture industry that 3D technologies generate a lot of opportunities, the cost to do the renderings “the traditional way” is sometimes just too high, especially for highly configurable products.

The second area is not related to technological innovation, but rather the impact of COVID-19 on the way business is done. During the pandemic, many designers could not meet their customers in person. Consequently, many designers — whether they wanted to or not — had to embrace the e-design approach in order to serve their customers remotely.

What e-design entails is the use of 3D visual technologies as the means of communication with the designers’ customers. As a result, many designers have invested their time to learn the 3D tools and added the visual renderings to their portfolios.

What does it mean for the manufacturers? As 3D visualization is now offered by many more designers, the brands that offer the designers the 3D tools and assets will be in a much better position than those that do not. The designers will favor the brands that make their products accessible, save them time and help them close projects faster and more seamlessly.

Preet  Sahil Singh, co-founder and product head, Live Furnish

After years of being the exclusive domain of engineers and specialty designers, 3D image production has recently become more accessible to mainstream businesses.  For example, our platform has created a window into 3D, allowing clients to create the kind of gorgeous visual content shoppers have come to expect, without the significant investments historically associated with the technology.

These advances have resulted in a proliferation of high-quality photorealism across the home furnishings and furniture categories, creating a new aesthetic standard for room scenes and silhouettes, and leveling the playing field for entities large and small.

Live Furnish gives manufacturers and retailers the ability to now bring this toolset in house, quickly and inexpensively, maintaining complete ownership of their brand without an intermediary like an agency or studio.  Clients’ speed to market is also reduced from months to days, creating a significant edge over competitors. Those who are slow to adopt — or simply unaware of the new accessibility of — 3D image creation will find themselves outpaced in this newer, faster and more beautiful environment.”

Beck Besecker, CEO and co-founder, Marxent

2021 has been the year of 3D. To create great online and omnichannel customer experiences in 3D, you need to think beyond the individual app and look at the complete opportunity across multiple touchpoints in the customer journey.

Make it fast and easy for shoppers. Marxent’s 3D Room Planner with Design from Photo technology removes the need for catalog knowledge or design experience in the space planning and configuration process. It’s fast, easy; this is what shoppers want.

Shoppers want to buy and share directly from 3D apps. 3D spins, AR, 3D sectional configurators and 3D room planners can be really effective sales enablement tools, but if the customer experience fails to close the loop from inspiration to transaction and ideally to advocacy, then you are not maximizing the ROI on your 3D investment. Add-to-cart integrations are a critical piece of the puzzle, as is the ability for shoppers to share the content that they customize.

3D content is an investment; plan it wisely. The cost of creating 3D products that mirror real, buyable SKUs has challenges. If you do AR with one company and a 3D sectional configurator with another, a room planner with a third, your cost of content and the ability to control the output will be challenged, not to mention project management across multiple vendors. Simplify and plan for the future when you choose how to get started with 3D.

Speed matters. It is very possible to launch a 3D app within six to eight weeks and with little internal effort. If it will take you longer than three to six months to publish a 3D app, then it is taking too long. If you are hiring a big team of people to get it done, rethink your approach. Get started quickly, get early data, and keep improving the experience.

Andrey Ustyugov,  CEO, Planner5D

I would specifically point out advancements in AI, 3D and AR technologies. Those, I believe, could bring lots of value to manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.

And this is already happening. There are several products on the market that allow users to virtually design their living environments and experiment with different kinds of furniture, textures, textiles and so on. It is a great opportunity for both manufacturers and retailers to include their offerings into those virtual spaces or to start growing their technological expertise in 3D modeling, AI and computer vision.

Instead of visiting brick-and-mortar shops, users are now able to see how the furniture will look in their living room or a bedroom. With the help of computer vision and image search, AI can find relevant furniture in catalogs. It saves a big chunk of time for someone who is looking for the right sofa or bed.

Knowing about consumer’s preferences and needs, it is already possible to personalize the shopping experience and cater it to the specific needs of individuals or families.

In the future, personalization can stretch as far as to create a certain mood and atmosphere as well as enhance the overall quality of the living space.

Jon Cheney, founder and CEO, SeekXR

Augmented reality is starting to enter the beginning of a golden age, where basic functionality is now commonplace and more advanced experiences are soon to dot the internet.

Multiple product viewing, color selectors, interactivity, call-outs and more advanced animations are all available now through Seek Studio.

Cross-platform consistency is key for providing a trustworthy consumer experience. For both manufacturers and retailers in the furniture business, 3D and AR are now a must-have. Consumers will ditch one site in favor of another that allows them to preview furniture in their home. Given the greater emphasis on remote work and living, even manufacturers need to ensure their buyers have options when in-person travel isn’t possible. If manufacturers aren’t there already, producing AR-ready 3D models should be a core element of any new product.

Boaz Ashkenazy, founder and CEO, Simply Augmented

The most interesting advancement we are seeing in AR, VR, AI and 3D is the work that is being done in immersive marketing.  As VR and AR become much more accessible on standalone headsets and mobile devices, brands are appealing to younger audiences by creating digital stores and virtual environments that go beyond the typical flat product page.

The virtual storefronts allow retailers to showcase products in immersive 3D environments, which allows for a more discovery-driven brand experience. What’s exciting about these new approaches and platforms is that it is easy to integrate into existing tools for payment, checkout and backend databases.

Ultimately it’s about leaving consumers with a unique experience that is fun, social and memorable.

Ben Houston, founder, ThreeKit

We expect that multi-item AR configuration is going to take the furniture industry by storm. It will allow you to do full room planning from your phone without the tediousness of traditional room planning. You’ll no longer need to enter in room dimensions and try to set floor and wall coverings to match your room.

AR-based room planning is much easier and gives you more realistic results. And when customers can engage with several products in a seamless experience, it means much higher order values for brands.

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