Augmented reality and 3D will accelerate adoption of e-commerce

2020 will be the year that forever changed the adoption trajectory of digital commerce. We have witnessed 10 years of increased use of e-commerce in the past three months. Visual e-commerce, a combination of augmented reality (AR) and 3D rendering will further improve the user experience, accelerating the use and benefits of digital commerce.

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An important 2020 business lesson is that every business must be digital. The shift from a centralized defense model to a distributed and containment model in managing a pandemic has highlighted the level of preparedness for businesses to function in a world that is highly distributed and digitally enabled. The physical disconnect of businesses and their stakeholders will require adoption of new technologies in order to maintain continuity and better future experiences for all. 

One of these important technologies is digital commerce. 2020 will be the year that changed the trajectory of e-commerce, telemedicine, and remote work. March 2020 was the first time in US history that consumers bought more groceries online than in-store and by a large margin -- 22% more consumers shopped online for groceries in March. According to the Salesforce global shoppers index report, there was a 20% growth in e-commerce revenue in Q1 2020 versus 12% in Q1 2019. COVID-19 cases were a leading indicator for digital shopping. For most of Q1 2020, digital commerce activity was tacking to 2019 trends. But as the pandemic awareness and social distancing practices grew, there was a 41% spike in digital revenue during the final 15 days of the quarter (March 15 to 31, 2020). 

According to Lewis Columbus, U.S. retailers' online year-over-year (YoY) revenue growth is up 68% as of mid-April, surpassing an earlier peak of 49% in early January. And 72% of consumers are using mobile devices to shop in stores according to the latest PYMNTS' 2020 Remote Payments Study

One area of  technology that is shaping e-commerce today and one of the most interesting areas of innovation is product visualization - use of 3D and augmented reality application for e-commerce is very powerful. I first shared an example of this capability at the National Retail Federation (NRF) conference in New York in 2019. 

To learn more about the use of augmented reality and 3D for e-commerce applications, I connected with CEO Matt Gorniak and Founder and CTO Ben Houston from Threekit--a visual technology company specializing in 3D product configuration and augmented reality. 

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Threekit CEO Matt Gorniak

Houston spent nearly 20 years working in the Hollywood visual effects industry and realized that the same technologies he had created for blockbuster movies could be used in e-commerce to help brands sell more products online. Better product imagery is a proven way to increase conversions as people process images 60 times faster than words. Yet, many online companies haven't taken full advantage of the product visualization technologies that exist. Houston created Threekit to bridge that gap.

Gorniak recently joined Threekit as CEO. He was reunited with people that build businesses with him in the past, so he knew their pedigree was top-notch. "We have many decades of experience in companies that solve big problems around e-commerce and CPQ. But what really fires me up is the technology. The visual fidelity is incredible, which makes sense, considering that Threekit is built using the same technology that is used to create the visual effects on movies such as The Avengers, Harry Potter, and the new Star Wars series," said Gorniak. 

65% of the world is comprised of visual learners, and it's been proven that using visual aids in classroom environments can improve learning exponentially. Today's businesses have an opportunity to exceed customer's visual expectations through our technology.

Can augmented reality and 3D realistically deliver the visual quality and fidelity of a products? The video below is an example of visual commerce can enhance the digital buying process. 

By scanning this QR code, you can experience AR right on your mobile phone - this is very cool. 

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ThreeKit AR example - scan QR code using smartphone camera and see AR magic in action

COVID-19 pandemic and its impact of digital commerce 

 
Gorniak believes that COVID-19 has massively accelerated the rate at which people began seeing the value of visualization technology. "With retail stores closed, the only option available has been e-commerce. But if you don't have images available of your products, you can't sell them. Also, if your competitor offers shoppers the ability to customize and in 3D and put products in their space with augmented reality, they'll probably sell more than you," said Gorniak. 

Threekit has seen forward-thinking companies accelerate their pipeline to offer digital alternatives to shopping in-store in order to meet the consumers' growing dependency on eCommerce.

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Analysis by Threekit. Virtual Shopping Index to learn more.

Here are some research regarding the impact of visual commerce: 

  • Image influence: 83% of shoppers point to product images as the most influential factor in their purchasing decision.
  • Order value: increases by 20% 
  • Increased shopper engagement and trust: 3D images boost customer engagement 66 percent over traditional 2D images. 
  • Increased conversions: Actual purchases can rise 40 percent when a brand adds 3D images, thanks to increased trust and increased customer certainty about what they're seeing.
  • Decreased returns: 3D images can reduce returns of online purchases by 35 percent, again thanks to the amount of information these images provide.

It's no surprise that revenue in certain sectors such as home and 'Do it Yourself' (DIY) products are growing while sectors such as travel and online dating are decreasing. 

These trends have these retailers thinking about visualization as a whole new component of their strategy. For example, a recent survey found that 49% of furniture retailers plan to offer augmented reality shopping, directly due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Threekit is also seeing strong interest in B2B e-commerce. Companies selling complex manufactured products need to re-imagine the way they engage their customers and they are doing with 3D/AR.

Gorniak believes that companies have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to embrace the new way people are going to be buying. "Even after the pandemic is over, people's expectations for better visual experiences will be higher, so it's imperative for companies to make sure they're meeting these demands. Not only will investing in better online visual experiences now future-proof businesses for years to come, but it will also affect how they are perceived by consumers," said Gorniak. 

The future of digital commerce is powered by AR/3D

Threekit is forecasting a strong focus on AR, especially for B2B and remote selling. "People are looking for ways to engage with products from the comfort of their own homes and will look for retailers who can provide that experience. Since early Marchn 2020, we've seen engagement with 3D products increase nearly 100% with one of our top customers, and we only expect this to grow as people become more accustomed to the technology," said Gorniak. 

"We recently launched our Configurable AR feature, that makes AR even easier to use. With this tool, customers can see exactly what they have personally customized in the context of their own space, and no longer have to depend on a single 3D model to represent what they're looking for," said Houston. This isn't a trend exclusive to Threekit's customers either. After adding AR shopping capabilities, Rebecca Minkoff found that shoppers became 65% more likely to make a purchase after viewing a product in AR.

Consumers will likely continue to operate in a risk-averse mode once shelter-in-place mandates are lifted. Consumers and business buyers are likely to significantly grow their use of e-commerce in 2020 and beyond. In 2019, digital commerce in US retail was 16% of total commerce. My guess is digital commerce as a percentage of total commerce in the US will reach 25% by end of 2020.