Why commercial brands are interested in 3D visualization tools

For an industry based on aesthetics, design has been woefully slow to adopt technical visualization tools. Instead, furniture brands have long relied on sending out fabric memos, finish samples and mock-ups to illustrate custom options to their designer clients. While the digital technology needed to instantly show what such customization would look like has been around for years (and has long been used by mass retailers), the cost of modernizing trade catalogs – often containing thousands of SKUs with hundreds of upholstery and finish choices – was something industry brands couldn’t justify.

This has started to change in recent years, as requests from designers and their clients for these tools have become more frequent and a glut of third-party companies offering the technology has emerged, driving down costs. . Even before the pandemic accelerated the comfort of the world with digital commerce, many commerce-focused brands had begun developing 3D configurators or augmented reality features to allow designers and their customers to see parts as that they would actually happen, with tailored choices. “Offering customers the ability to digitally customize a 3D model before placing an order was starting to feel like the cost of doing business,” says Neil MacKenzie, the vice president of marketing for Universal Furniture. “It was becoming an end-user expectation, and we wanted to be able to meet that expectation.”

Universal is not alone. Companies across the design industry – from furniture brand Fairfield and lighting company Regina Andrew Detroit to luxury carpet supplier The Rug Company and bespoke kitchen manufacturer L’Atelier Paris – have rolled out virtual visualization tools over the past year, a move that bridges the growing disconnect between selling a luxury product and offering an analog personalization experience.

The 3D configurator of L’Atelier ParisCourtesy of L’Atelier Paris

Universal began investigating the possibility of developing a 3D configurator in 2018, then accelerated the process after the brand’s parent company, Samson Holding, acquired bespoke upholstery manufacturer Southern Furniture in October 2019. which allowed Universal to expand its custom capabilities. In addition to offering customization to designers, the configurator allowed the brand to effectively signal change. “It was the best way to make everyone aware of the scope of what was on offer, especially now with the difficulty of obtaining samples due to ongoing supply chain issues,” says MacKenzie. In fall 2020, Universal partnered with an outside company, Cylindo, to launch its 3D Configurator, which showcases over 400 fabrics, 50 leathers, six leg finishes, and three stud options on customizable pieces, in just a few minutes. clicks only. Merchants can also see in real time the impact of each choice on the price of a product.

Relying on a third party to build these visualization tools is a feature of this virtual boom. Most design brands simply don’t have the capacity to build a platform in-house, and many vendors are eager to fill the void. In addition to Cylindo, there’s Jola Interactive, which worked with Fairfield; Intiaro, who teamed up with Ethan Allen and Kravet; All3D, who worked with Skyline Furniture and John Robshaw; and Threekit, which has worked with heavyweights like Steelcase and Crate & Barrel. The rush to compete is helping to lower prices and make 3D viewing more accessible for smaller brands, but it’s still not quite cheap, at least not yet (Universal has invested over $200,000 in its special order upholstery tool since 2019, by MacKenzie.)

For commercial brands, partnering with third-party companies takes away the task of creating 3D models of the thousands of SKUs they sell. Companies provide CAD drawings and specifications of their products to 3D modeling companies, which send those specifications to a team of modelers (usually located overseas – those who created Universal’s models were in Macedonia). The drafts then return to the brand for approval and edits. MacKenzie says making the models is the most time-consuming aspect of the process, which usually takes a few months. But once they exist, adding new options, like showing a different leg finish, is a piece of cake.

However, not all brands have gone the third-party route. Regina Andrew already had an in-house modeling team, which simplified the process. It took only three months to develop the first batch of models, totaling 198 products, all of which went live over the summer. Management decided to focus on augmented reality rather than customization, taking the realistic 3D models they were using in-house, refining the quality to make it as authentic as possible, and allowing users to “place” virtually the products in their own projects. “Part of the complexity of creating this type of thing is actually having good models that don’t look fake or ‘video game’ – you want to achieve a realistic look,” explains Jim Bonomo, general manager of the brand. “It’s almost an extension of your photography. It’s part of your intellectual property, and you need to make sure it looks and feels like the real thing.

Part of what kept the company from launching the technology earlier was a desire to host it on its website instead of developing an app, which was a common workaround when the technology first started rolling out. few years ago. “We saw a separate app as a bottleneck,” says Bonomo. “It should have been maintained and updated separately from our site, so we decided to wait until the capabilities caught up to the point where we could host everything on the site.”

New tool from The Rug Company lets users choose custom colors in real time

A new tool from The Rug Company allows users to choose custom colors in real time.Courtesy of The Rug Company

Being able to keep customers on a website instead of directing them to an app to view an augmented reality room and then hopefully returning to the site to make a purchase has not only streamlined the user experience, but has also gave brands a more concise way to glean information. There are loads of data that can be collected when someone uses a 3D configurator or an AR feature, from which items draw the most attention to the time users spend on the site to the location of these users.

Since launching last year, Universal has seen an average of more than 68,000 unique setups created each month, with an all-time high of 102,000 in March. The company also saw an increase in overall time spent on site by one minute and 20 seconds. (It may not seem like much, but on average people would only spend about 45-62 seconds on any given page.) “And that increase is also coming from consumers, not necessarily business members, which is a huge shift for us. . says MacKenzie. “The end consumer cannot get a lot of information from our site. We’re not Crate & Barrel – they don’t know how much something costs or when it might ship, so for them to still spend time using this tool, it’s quite telling.

Since The Rug Company launched its 3D configurator in early 2021, the brand has seen a direct increase in sales, reports the CEO James Seuss. “Rug purchases are usually not an instant purchase, it’s a thoughtful purchase,” he says. “People like to take their time and reflect. And when you add custom edits to it, it used to take a bit of time. You had to go through our sales people, who then had to have custom artwork made. This way it saves a lot of time and people can move through the decision-making process a little faster. We’ve seen a lot of custom colored rugs added to shopping carts this year.

Once brands understand the value of investing in visualization tools, there seems to be no turning back. The benefits of its existing visualization tool inspired Universal to switch to AR functionality, a feature the brand has already started rolling out to select products. “Offering these tools and giving designers and clients the ability to see the details of what they’re creating justifies the price and helps us stand out,” he says. “Now if only that helped with availability.”

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