Product manufacturers, e-tailers and traditional brick-and-mortar stores alike are leading an emerging generation of e-commerce and web experiences built with 3-D visualization technologies. A growing number of these companies — like Apple, Amazon, Walmart and more — understand their e-commerce sites are becoming the primary vehicles for engaging with consumers.
The research firm eMarketer predicts e-commerce sales will jump 18% this year. The pandemic's impact on bricks-and-mortar retail outlets will be devastating: It will take up to five years for offline sales to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Yes, the pandemic-imposed lockdowns and business closures have forced people to do the bulk of their shopping for essential and non-essential goods online. But this is not a new trend. Digital Commerce reports that online's share of total retail sales reached 16% in 2019 — up from 14.4% in 2018 and 13.2% in 2017.
"Those numbers represent a massive acceleration in the shift of retail from in-store to online," writes The Motley Fool's Adam Levy. "Retailers that are unable to adapt to online commerce — more likely, those that haven't already — will get left behind as more shopping moves online."
As the pandemic forces retailers to embrace online commerce, it's also prohibiting manufacturers from releasing their new products. Trade shows, flashy launch events, and other in-person gatherings have been canceled. Product marketers have had to postpone or cancel 2-D photography sessions, hampering the development of new sales and marketing collateral. Supply chains have ground to a halt, and the vision for the industry's near future remains cloudy as infection rates spike in several states.
However, the crisis also presents product manufacturers and their retail partners with the opportunity to use 3-D visualization technologies to overcome these challenges and modernize their e-commerce strategies.
Consider just how tedious and time-consuming the process of creating 2-D images is, especially when working with multiple variations of one product to reflect options like different colors, sizes, and materials. The manufacturer must supply various products or build individual prototypes. The photographer must capture images of all those variations, often in multiple scenes (e.g., the kitchen, living room, the office, etc.). The marketing team must maintain enormous image libraries to meet their retail partners' requirements for images in various formats and standards that are challenging to track.
The pandemic has not impacted the production of 3-D assets. Most 3-D providers are seeing a surge in new business as manufacturers realize they can quickly realize the benefits 3-D offers, including lower marketing costs while driving sales, improving customer service before and after purchase, and maintaining strong retail partner relationships.
A common question for manufacturers is whether they should build up their in-house capabilities or work with a 3-D strategy partner. Both are viable options as the technology has become more widely accessible that does not require an organization to hire additional personnel or make significant investments in new technologies.
Every organization is unique, but a good recommendation for a first step is to work with an outsource partner with expertise in the broad field of 3-D to speed adoption and enable the marketing team to focus on priority projects and achieving campaign goals.
Once a company starts to build a 3-D content library, it may decide to hire one person or a small team to manage the creation of new content — just as they likely do now with 2-D photography sessions. Eventually, the internal team can assume responsibility for managing 3-D vendors, assessing technology changes, managing asset libraries, and finding ways to maximize 3-D asset value across various departments.
While evaluating potential 3-D strategic partners, here are some key capabilities to insist on:
Brands and retailers that are not incorporating 3-D technology into their e-commerce strategies are already falling behind. Consumers won't be satisfied with scrolling through static 2-D product images — they want to view a product from all angles, up close and far away, and see what it looks like in customized scenes and environments. At a time when marketing budgets have been cut and uncertainty reigns, investing in 3-D today will not only help a brand survive the pandemic. It will gain a significant competitive advantage in the long-term.
Tom Connard is co-founder and chief operating officer of 3D Source.
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