You’ve probably had the experience of backing off of a big-ticket online purchase because you weren’t sure if the item would meet your expectations. Although online shopping is convenient, shoppers still can’t interact with products in person before purchasing, ultimately affecting conversion rates and increasing returns.
For this reason, any technological advances that mimic the in-person shopping experience can be valuable to online businesses and consumers. Next-generation 3D ecommerce tools are prime examples of this innovation. Here’s what 3D commerce is and how to use it to increase sales.
What is 3D ecommerce?
3D ecommerce refers to using three-dimensional (3D) digital models of products to support online shopping. Ecommerce businesses can use 3D models to help online shoppers visualize what a product will look like in real life—or, in some cases, in a specific physical space.
Businesses that sell customized products can also let consumers manipulate 3D modelsusing product configuration software, allowing each customer to build and interact with a custom digital prototype before making a purchase.
How does 3D ecommerce work?
Implementing a 3D ecommerce strategy requires two steps: creating 3D models of your products and developing a virtual space where customers can interact with them. Here’s an overview:
Create 3D product models
If your product development process already involves creating 3D computer-aided design (CAD) files, you can use these files to support your 3D ecommerce activities.
If not, you need to create 3D product models first. Here are some popular strategies:
- 3D scanning. 3D scanners use light to map the surface of physical objects. Essentially, the scanner emits light toward the object and records data about the distance of each surface point from the scanner’s lens. The scanner then uses this data to create a digital 3D model of the real product.
- Photogrammetry. Photogrammetry uses a digital camera to capture images of a physical object from multiple angles and feeds these reference photos to a photogrammetric software program. The software then converts the images to a 3D digital model.
- 3D design. Unlike 3D scanning and photogrammetry, 3D design doesn’t involve measuring an existing object. Instead, a graphic designer uses product specs, images, or prototypes to create a 3D CAD file of the item.
- 3D rendering application. 3D rendering applications let you build 3D product models without any specialized equipment. For example, Shopify’s 3D scanner combines photogrammetry and 3D scanning elements to create 3D product models based on video recorded using an iOS device.
Develop a virtual space
Once you create your 3D product models, develop a virtual space where customers can interact with your products. Here are three examples:
- 3D viewers. A 3D viewer—often referred to as a 3D visualization tool or software—is an application that allows users to see products from multiple angles, rotate them, and, in some cases, apply and view customizations. For example, a user might interact with a 3D model of a sofa in a web browser to get a better sense of its shape and dimensions.
- Augmented reality (AR). AR technology overlays digital imagery onto a user’s device’s view of their immediate surroundings, integrating virtual elements with real-world inputs. For example, an art dealer might develop a mobile phone application that shows images of items in the consumer’s own environment. When the consumer points their phone’s camera at a wall, the application uses the 3D product model to layer an actual-size image of the painting onto the live camera feed.
- Virtual reality (VR). Virtual reality simulates the physical experience of interacting with a space or an object. For example, a business might simulate an in-store shopping experience by creating avirtual showroom or a 3D physical store model, allowing customers to navigate the space and view individual items. VR can also allow users to view an item from different angles by simulating the experiences of walking around the item. VR is an immersive experience that users can access using VR headsets or glasses.
Once you’ve decided on a method, use 3D ecommerce applications to design and develop your product viewing system.
Benefits of 3D ecommerce
- Higher conversion rates
- Decreased returns
- Customization potential
- Pre-development pitching and product testing
3D ecommerce has multiple benefits, from fostering connections with your brand by simulating real-world environments to enabling next-level product customization and collaborative design.
“Life is in 3D. That, to me, is the first part of spatial commerce,” Farhan Thawar, VP of engineering at Shopify said in a space on X. “You can actually feel and be closer to your favorite brands.”
Thawar is especially excited by the next stage of 3D ecommerce, which, he says, is “reimagining what that new experience can be once we move beyond what we can do today by walking into a retail store. Imagine the future where you could try on different colors of something that doesn't exist.”
The ability to view actual or potential products can increase engagement and enable next-level product customization and collaborative design. Here are some benefits of 3D ecommerce:
Higher conversion rates
Allowing customers to interact with products in 3D can increase customer engagement and time spent on product pages.
It can also increase conversion rates: Shopify merchants who use 3D commerce experience an average 94% increase in conversions. A 2021 study also found that 40% of online shoppers are willing to pay more for 3D ecommerce experiences, suggesting 3D tech can increase average order size and average order value.
Returns are a major expense and logistical challenge for ecommerce businesses. 3D ecommerce technologies can improve post-purchase customer satisfaction and reduce product return rates by helping customers make more informed decisions.
For example, AR experiences can allow customers making a significant purchasing decision—like buying a couch—to see virtual representations of products in their living room, which can help them confirm that the dimensions, color, and style complement their space.
You can use 3D product configurators to help customers experiment with product customizations, including materials, color, size, or style adjustments.
Because 3D ecommerce technology lets customers view a digital prototype of the customized product, it can also increase customer confidence. Many brands don’t allow returns on personalized items, so tools that help consumers confirm that a customized product is the right choice can encourage conversions.
Pre-development pitching and product testing
Ecommerce businesses can also use 3D technology to pitch products to clients or investors before the product development phase. CAD simulations can help test product models and identify design flaws or vulnerabilities, allowing product development teams to address issues before developing a physical sample or going to market.
Challenges of 3D ecommerce
Many of the challenges of 3D ecommerce stem from these applications being relatively new. Users may need to become more familiar with applications, and many businesses must create 3D product models from scratch.
Here are some of the current challenges, as well as a few tips to help you overcome them:
Time and cost
Implementing a 3D ecommerce strategy requires developing 3D product models and investing in product viewing technologies, like AR platforms and VR showrooms, which can take time and resources to set up.
Paying a designer to create 3D models can also be expensive, especially if you have an extensive product catalog or sell complex items. Cost estimates range from $40 to $200 for a simple product model to more than $1,000 for a more detailed design.
3D scanning applications, like Shopify’s 3D scanner for iOS, can help you keep 3D modeling costs down, and 3D, AR, and VR applications—including Shopify’s native AR functionality—can reduce development expenses and decrease time to launch.
Large file sizes
3D product model files often contain a lot of data, meaning hosting 3D product models can slow down your website, particularly if product files aren’t optimized, or a user has poor internet connectivity.
You can use a compression tool to reduce file size and improve site performance on various devices and internet connections. It’s best to keep product model file sizes below 4K, and optimize textiles containing information about a product’s surface properties as JPGs of 2K or less.
Some consumers may be unfamiliar with 3D product viewing technologies, which can cause frustration and a negative customer experience. For example, an AR smartphone app is no good for your business if a user can’t figure out how to interact with it.
Address this challenge by selecting or designing user-friendly 3D-viewing interfaces and investing in educational resources, such as demonstration videos that coach a user on how to interact with a 3D product.
3D ecommerce FAQ
What is an example of 3D ecommerce?
Online retailers can use AR technologies to layer product imagery over real-world inputs for an immersive experience to increase online shopping conversion rates and help customers make informed purchasing decisions. For example, an interior paint store might use AR technology to apply a paint color under consideration to the walls in an image of a customer’s room.