The potential of 3D visualisation technology

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  •    Author: Mike Jasfer
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The digital reality is gaining momentum, as more and more retailers are experimenting with technology to stand out and make their shopping experiences more engaging. Leading the charge is 3D product visualisation, writes Cylindo’s Janus Jagd …
We are witnessing a shift in the decisionmaking process. Digital merchandising is becoming increasingly important – after all, today’s customers tend to start their shopping journeys online, and more often than not, their initial research is crucial in shaping purchases they make later on.
In a world full of visuals and rich content, having a product visualisation strategy is a must. Both furniture brands and retailers should be aware that building a high-quality, future-proof asset library can mean the difference between success and failure. 
Having an end goal in mind and understanding the difference between high- and low-poly assets (low-poly is a 3D polygon mesh that has a small number of polygons, so often appears blocky and lacks detail, yet still demonstrates the basic shape, while high-poly assets create superior finishes with a photorealistic look) can help furniture companies identify the best technology for them at this time. 
The new furniture buyer journey 
As the industry is in the throes of digitisation, each business must consider what they need to enable the next generation of technologies and improve the online shopping experience on offer.
Today, the furniture purchase journey starts online for more than 70% of consumers – according to Statista, worldwide online furniture sales are expected to grow at an average rate of +11.9% a year between 2018-22, resulting in a market volume of US$294b in 2022.
It’s up to companies to set their own goals, then choose their technologies wisely – the companies who adopt tech for the sake of being cutting-edge will eventually do more harm than good.
The future of furniture visualisation 
We’ve seen huge advancement in product visualisation in the last decade. The furniture industry used to rely on product photography and 2D-based tools – now we’re truly moving into a 3D era. More companies are replacing traditional product photography, as they become aware of the advantages that 3D visuals offer. While 2D assets are static, hard to modify and repurpose, 3D assets are smart, agile, and can be repurposed with ease. 
Today, due to the high quality of the renderings, it’s almost impossible to notice the difference between a photo and CGI. Also, 3D creates unmatched scalability, enabling furniture companies to visualise a whole catalogue with all of their product options, while shaving costs – and adding new fabrics to a product is easy once you have the core 3D asset.
When we talk about 3D product visualisation, four interesting technologies are on retailers’ radar for 2019 and beyond …
3D/360° product visualisation
Many companies have already replaced traditional product photography with 3D visuals. Nowadays, some of the furniture leaders use more than 75% CGI in their catalogues, and the level of quality is so high that you won’t be able to recognise the difference between a rendering and an actual photograph.
Thanks to advanced technology, renderings often show colours more correctly than photography. Moreover, 3D renderings can do things that photography just can’t – 360° spin, product cut-outs, or interactive room scenes. 
Today, we are not only talking about realistic 3D renderings, but renderings with features that empower engaging shopping experiences, and can increase conversions by up to +40%. 
With 3D visualisation, lighting, staging, shadows and reflections are problems of the past. The assets are created in a completely controlled environment, on your own terms, thus reducing visualisation costs by up to -58%. 
This product visualisation technology helps companies save time, money, and resources while showcasing an unlimited number of product configurations – different colours, textures, and fabrics. At this point, 3D is the only product visualisation technology that produces high-quality assets that can be leveraged across channels and touchpoints like product feeds, cart thumbs, augmented reality apps, marketplaces, endless aisle technology, and much more.
Heal’s, for example, creates a captivating customer experience geared up with 4K HD zoom, interactive 360° spin and unlimited configurations, loading in milliseconds. 3D visualisation technology gives Heal’s photorealistic visuals and tools to engage and convert their audience across channels.
Augmented Reality (AR)
AR has big potential to disrupt the furniture industry and to ease the decisionmaking process. Some of the biggest players have already introduced AR apps, allowing customers to insert virtual objects, such as sofas, tables and chairs, into their homes, and immediately see how the piece of furniture would look. This way, customers can try out furniture virtually without worrying about bad decisions, removing a huge weight from their shoulders before the big purchase.
Unlike VR, AR doesn’t require any special hardware. Customers can access the app on smartphones that they already own, so it’s easier to implement, making cost less of a consideration (which is the main reason AR is more widely adopted than VR). 
However, research shows that nearly 85% of mobile users tend to spend their time on five top apps – most of them social media platforms. Also, people tend to delete other apps due to rare usage or having limited storage space on their phone. Bear in mind that furniture is not a frequently bought item, and it becomes clear that there’s a big chance customers won’t bother downloading an AR app. 
With the emergence of web-native AR on both iOS and Google devices, things drastically changed for this technology, emphasising its potential to disrupt the furniture industry. Web-native AR solutions allow customers to place 3D models of selected products in the real world straight from their mobile browser, without downloading a mobile app. In return, this has provided adoption rates 33 times higher than for traditional AR mobile apps. It will be interesting to see how this technology will further enrich the furniture buyer’s journey. 
Virtual Reality (VR)
Today’s retailers are experimenting with immersive technology to conceptualise the store of the future. VR is an immersive experience, because it blocks out the real world, making the user unaware of the environment around them. For this kind of virtual experience, customers must have special headsets which are still quite expensive. 
According to research from Perkins Coie, respondents identify the user experience as the top obstacle (41%) for mass adoption of VR, reflecting ongoing concerns with technical limitations and performance issues, as well as bulky hardware.
Most of the companies that launched VR apps are still testing and experimenting. However, VR is far from mainstream. Currently, it is more brand-centric than customer-centric. Even though there is a big potential for VR in retail, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before it becomes widely adopted.
Wayfair has launched a few AR/VR apps. One of their first experiments with VR was Patio Playground, an app that lets customers get a virtual view of how furniture might look by using it to enhance an outdoor setting. Their other VR app, IdeaSpace, enables customers to explore a variety of unique spaces and shop in an interactive setting.
Space planning
Space (or a room) planner is a helpful visualisation tool that lets brands and retailers turn 2D blueprints into realistic 3D models. This technology allows users to insert 3D furniture replications into the user’s space, helping shoppers visualise how the new setting would look.
Unlike 3D product visualisation and AR, a space planner is primarily an in-store tool. The combination of sales staff knowledge and the power of this technology can have a huge impact on a business’ AOV.
Not knowing the size and look of the room can be a barrier to delivering exceptional sales service. With the help of a space planner, the salesperson is in a better position to give advice to the customer and optimise sales. For instance, a customer that comes to a store to buy a sofa might decide to buy an armchair as well, thanks to the context that the space planner helps create. Research shows that a space planner can help furniture companies increase average sales value threefold.
Deciding on the right 3D product visualisation technology for your business is a multifaceted process, but there’s never a dull moment!
Janus Jagd is the CEO of Cylindo, a software specialist which brings together decades of experience from 3D, gaming and retail backgrounds to offer brands and retailers simple product visualisation. The Cylindo Platform promises to automate the visualisation of any product, from any angle and in any variation, increasing engagement and conversion rates.

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