As a retailer, manufacturer, or wholesaler of (mass) customizable products you’ve probably asked yourself this question before; How can I show my customers all my products in all possible combinations in a feasible and profitable way? The reason you have not yet found the right answer to this, is because it simply wasn’t there yet. Technically speaking, it might have been possible, it just never has been feasible or profitable due to the costs and logistics involved. This has unfortunately been the universal truth, whether you are in furniture, fashion, sporting goods, household appliances, building or even large machinery. The good news is: things have changed! We’re here to tell you that nowadays it is not only possible, but very feasible and highly profitable to visualize all your products and enable your customers to purchase them using a guided selling process in the form of a product configurator (CPQ / CTO).
Visual commerce is the catch all phrase for a range of technologies which enable retailers and manufactures to help consumers to better understand their products and product options by offering better information through digital product visualization, both online and offline. 3D configurators, 360-spinners, product renders, augmented reality and virtual reality are examples of technologies used to this end.
ok… now we’ve got that covered, let’s move on to product visualization
The challenge of (digital) product visualization
For the purpose of this article, we define product visualization as basically being able to capture a visual representation of your products in order to be able to show your products online and on various devices.
Traditionally, product visualization is done through product photography. But as you will likely know, that tends to be very costly. Especially when you have a large number of products which also have a lot of possible variants due to customization and configuration options. In other words: manufacturing, shipping and storing thousands of variants of a single product model and having them photographed is not a feasible option. However, you can hardly expect your customers to spend their money on products while they have no clue on how the product is actually going to look and/or whether it will fit, right?
So, on the one hand it’s clear you need to make sure you can visualize what you’re selling, but on the other hand, it’s not feasible to create photographs of each and every variant… What are your options?
3D product visualization
3D product visualization is the process of creating a digital copy (digital twin) of your physical products. Generally, this is done in order to use these visual assets to create appealing and engaging (online) experiences for customers, such as: visualizers with photorealistic product renders or interactive 3D configurators. The beauty of it is that 3D product visualization is incredibly versatile, so once you have those 3D assets created, you can use them in so many ways.
Visual assets are often used as input for product configuration software; which enables customers to visualize all product options and variants through a guided selling process. This can be done online in e-commerce platforms like Magento, Shopify or Woocommerce, but it is also a powerful tool to increase your conversion and order value in your stores.
How Does Product Configuration Software Work?
The functionality of product configuration software is pretty straight forward; your customer can customize any of your configurable products on your website by selecting various different options available to that product. The product visualization software then continuously shows the customer a render of the customized product with the selections made. Live, within seconds. This “render” can be a digital photograph image of your product or an interactive 3D model, or even both. This way the customer knows exactly how the product will look.
So… how does product configuration software ‘know’ how products look like? Great question. The software uses one base 3D model per product that is uploaded to the system as well as any other configurable components such as feet for a couch, a headboard for a bed or a neck type for a T-shirt, etc. Alongside that, materials (such as fabrics, woods, metals, etc) are uploaded as 3D textures, sometimes in different colors. These are basically wrapped around the 3D model when selected.
More often than not, your product configurations will adhere to certain rules: if you choose “A” then you cannot choose “B” or if you choose “C”, then “D” has to be included automatically. Furthermore, there are likely pricing consequences to the choices: “E” has an added cost and if you combine “F” with “G”, it has a set price which is lower than the sum of the components. However your product setup, you should always look for a product configurator engine that can handle any complex business and pricing rules. This way you make sure that no products are being configured and ordered which you cannot deliver and prevent users from buying your products for the wrong price.
Once the configuration has been set up properly, how are the products visualized and how does that translate to a front-end interface which can be used in stores or on online e-commerce platforms such as Magento, Episerver, Shopify and Woocommerce?
Renders vs interactive 3D
What is the difference between a render and interactive 3D and why do you require a 3D model in both cases?
What generally is called a render is a computer generated image which is often high quality and can hardly be distinguished from real photography. The input for the computer to be able to create a render, is one or multiple 3D models as well as a 3D scene for the environment. What is created can be based on reality, but can be completely fictional as well, even though the end result looks completely real. For instance, a photo-real image can be created of a product which does not physically exist in a space that does not exist (e.g. your kitchen visualized in the house you will be building next year). Regardless of the content, a (product) render generally refers to an image.
Interactive 3D, or an interactive 3D configurator is based on similar technology, only the output isn’t a high quality image, but rather a tool which displays an interactive 3D scene which holds one or multiple 3D products / models. Users can manipulate the scene by zooming and rotating the camera to view the product from all angles and, in case of a 3D configurator, the product itself can be modified as well. These modifications in form and color (material) are displayed in real-time. An interactive 3D configurator offers a very engaging experience for the customer who is in complete control of how the product is viewed. Highly advanced product configurators like iONE360 will allow a combination of both interactive 3D and live product rendering which offers the best of both worlds to the customer.
Artist rendering, vs pre-rendering vs automated (live) rendering
Traditionally, creating 3D renders is done by specialists. We call them: artist-renderings. They take the 3D models and components, piece them together manually, apply the correct materials, place everything in a designed scene and then manually starts the rendering process in specialized software, which will take a couple of minutes on high-performance devices. For each and every possible variant, each configuration and every material or color, this process is repeated. You can imagine that this process, even though this is a lot faster and cheaper than traditional product photography, would still take a huge amount of time (and costs) if your catalog consists of multiple products which can be configured in hundreds or thousands of variants per model.
If your product configurator supports integration with a rendering service, you can start working with automated pre-rendering. This means that every combination of your product is generated as a digital photo completely automatically. All the pre-made images are uploaded to the system. Whenever a customer configures their product, the pre-rendered image is displayed. For a lot of products, this process is ideal as visuals are available for every variant of the product which can be displayed at the time a user selects that variant.
If you have products which are configurable in thousands or even millions of variants (e.g. sectional sofa’s), automated pre-rendering simply isn’t sophisticated enough. It would take a lot of time for a server to compute the renders for each variant of each of your products and you would end up with a huge database with renders of highly exotic combinations which will probably never be selected by any human user. Moreover, even though the process is automated and the cost per rendered image is very low (e.g. 1 dollar), the costs will run up to large sums if millions of renders are created on auto-pilot.
The result is that you still have to think about which products in what colors and with what features he wants to be able to showcase, to limit the amount of renders. Usually this results in a strategic selection within all the possible fabrics, colors, features, etcetera. Because otherwise, it would still not be feasible, let alone be profitable to showcase all products in all possible configurations.
Automated live rendering is a groundbreaking innovation within product configurators. Instead of creating pre-rendered images of all models, components, elements, materials and features of your products and upload them, the automated live rendering process ensures an “on demand” model, creating and serving only those renders relevant to the customer based on his selections. The magic happens within the product configurator itself: the product image is composed while the customer is configuring, fully automated and within seconds! And, only per request, so the image is made “live” if it doesn’t exist yet. Previously created product renders are saved so that each image only needs to be created once.
This way, you don’t have to create a huge amount of partially irrelevant images, and at the same time, they’re always there when you need them. The benefits are almost too good to be true: in addition to the fact that you can remove a lot of customer doubts and thus sell much more, you also save immensely on your visualization costs.
Why do you and your customer need product visualization software?
Besides ensuring that the configured products that your customers buy can actually be produced, product visualization with product configuration software offers multiple other benefits to your customer.
1. Take away your customers doubts and hesitations
Your customers can’t imagine how your customizable products will look. 51% of your customers postpones a purchase and 36% will cancel a purchase completely, just because they can’t imagine how products will actually look like. Especially in different set ups. Images are therefore the most effective selling tools. Let’s help them by bridging the imagination gap and increase your conversion rate up to 27%!
2. Competitive advantage
Beat the competition with high quality visuals and engaging experiences. When customers compare your visualized products to that of your competitors, expect them to be blown away by the difference proper visualization can make to their experience and buying confidence.
3. Happy and loyal customers
This all builds up to creating happy and loyal customers. Orders that are made with product configuration software are far more likely to meet or even exceed customer expectations (I mean… a bright yellow couch with black feet might be the next big thing!). Wave goodbye to order inaccuracy and costly returns and say hello to customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Visualize your succes
Less returns, lower costs, less waste, higher conversion, higher order values and, most importantly: happy, loyal customers. Visualization in combination with the Product Configurator is unbeatable. You won’t get a better ROI on software, because when products match customers’ expectations, business magic happens.
Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Discover how product visualization and configuration software can accelerate your business by requesting a demo of our iONE360 software.