Guest blog from Safwen Bouali, Founder and CEO, Third Design
With the crisis of 2020 our transition to a truly digital-first world has only accelerated. Customers are more online than ever and they expect companies to match the high bar set by digitally savvy leaders. No wonder hence that many retail and B2B businesses are increasingly replacing traditional forms of product information with more engaging, digital formats. IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer, has decided that 2021 will be the last year they will publish its iconic catalogue. At its peak in 2016, it reached around 200 million people every year.
3D visualisations in Retail
In an analogue world catalogues have been the go-to tool for retailers before online catalogues provided a new way of presenting clients with a view of the full range of their product portfolio. In many cases, such as for IKEA, the shift online has made them obsolete.
While for software businesses the digital experience is per se as seamless as integrating a solid support system or integrating apps via API, retailers are faced with different expectations along the customer journeys, from product catalogues to purchase and post-purchase support or repeat business.
And while there’s a certain renaissance of the traditional catalogue in some areas, renowned brands continue to move to online catalogues as they enable completely new options to experience the product. Consumers want to experience the product, but beyond that also customize it according to their own needs, which explains the rise of online "configurators" for product customisation. Yet, many companies in the furniture industry or others with similar needs still resort to paper manuals or PDF’s to help with kit furniture assembly. Others turn to unboxing video manuals, an option that has seen 57% growth on Youtube from last year to date. Still, many customers don't find these methods helpful enough, having to reach out to get manual assistance for assembly, or worse, return products. According to Accenture, about 70% of products returned labeled as faulty, had no faults found (NFF).
Similar trends can be observed when it comes to product-based B2B companies where the change has accelerated with the arrival of millennials in decision making positions. PDFs or other two-dimensional methods of showcasing the inventories of physical goods are being archived. Whereas the traditional order management often used to rely on human interactions, enabling individual online research and autonomous decision making is now of the essence. Research from Google and Millward Brown is actually showing that 89% of B2B buyers prefer self-service on the Web when it comes to researching products. Take purchasing industrial machinery as an example: Firms need to ponder about the space they might need in their factory, the support, daily usage, training their own staff where 3D can provide a much better experience for their decision making.
When it comes to purchasing a new machine a company also needs to take into consideration how their workforce can be trained up, keeping both productivity and safety in mind. Usually, companies would either resort to consultants for this task or send their employees to intensive training seminars which are costly and often held abroad - both are now not feasible due to the pandemic. In industries where the average cost of equipment downtimes is estimated to be $260,000 per hour, many producers have to keep absence due to training at a minimum.
More interactive, more personalised
This is where interactive Real-time 3D as a next-generation medium of communication and visualisation comes into play. With its interactivity it offers a dynamic, engaging, and immersive aspect of product representation that standard 2D images failed to capture. This allows customer service to demonstrate a product easily in a remote environment in a new, engaging way. Customers themselves get immersed in an authentic product experience. They can move an object around, rotate and move it around, or zoom in on every detail possible, an experience that blurs the difference between the virtual world and the real one.
It enables learning in a way that is closer to our natural physical experience. And with recent progress in response times 3D engines respond to user input within fractions of a second, enabling a genuinely immersive experience that can be personalised. This enables users also to modify the items they purchase, a feature offered by online 3D configurators. This is especially of interest when it comes to making such tools business viable. According to a report from Statista 61% of adult millennials and 57% of Gen X in the US are willing to pay more for quality customer service - a promise where 3D can deliver. The Zendesk CX Trends Report 2021 shows similar results for Europe: Across all industry sectors 57% of customers in Europe will spend more to buy from a company that offers good CX. In France, Italy, Spain and the Nordics this figure reaches 70% and more.
In our own work we found out that the furniture industry had a genuine need for 3D manuals, especially for kit furniture. Consumers across Europe have become used to assembling their own customised creations by themselves and 3D is making it easier than ever before.
Facilitating purchasing decisions
3D is a more natural way to meet customer’s expectations in hardware and consumer goods markets. In a digital-first world physical products need cutting-edge visualisations. 3D guarantees a smoother customer experience that is obtained by reducing friction such as the frustration of not being able to see the other angle of a product that is not covered in an image. It comes as no surprise that 92% of companies using 3D view it as extremely valuable in customer support.
3D can also help when it comes to pitching for new business. 61% of executives in a survey from Gartner find "product configurations and sales demonstrations" challenging, B2B decision makers are often overwhelmed with information during the purchasing process, especially when the information is predominantly presented as a text. This is where 3D can create more clarity and cut through complexity. This is also confirmed by a study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Unity: Decision makers identify poor or non-existent pre-purchase digital product experiences as their top CX delivery pain point.
The steady rise of mobile computational power has popularised the access to browsers and devices that are capable of rendering 3D content at high speed. It’s no wonder that many believe [source/ URL from Apple, Facebook and Microsoft] that 3D is the next computing platform and that augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have the potential to become the levers for the future of CX.
According to VentureBeat, companies have seen an increase of up to 40% in conversion rates for products in categories which have been 3D-digitised. According to 3D imaging market research from Cappasity, 82 percent of visitors to the product page activate the 3D view, and 95 percent of respondents prefer an interactive 3D representation to video playback”. IKEA’s future-living lab has already launched an augmented reality application in September 2017 to let customers see what furniture would look like in their own home. Amazon has done something similar with their “AR Room Decorator”.
For field agent support, placing augmented reality 3D instructions on machines to help technicians solve problems faster, has shown an ROI of 138% according to Microsoft.
Unity Technologies, the 3D engine company that went public in 2020 at a $13.6 billion valuation, have been preeminent proponents of the shift to 3D. A study that Forrester conducted on their behalf, has found that 92% of 3D technology adopters viewed it as a value-adding component for their customer experience. 94% of those surveyed are planning to expand their investment, as they have seen the added value that it can bring for training, product configuration, customer experience and marketing.
3D interactivity and its added value in CX.
3D, augmented reality, and virtual reality will help firms improve and humanise their digital experiences. 5G will even take this further: 5G is expected to reduce latency (the time it takes to retrieve data) to below 1 millisecond. That means VR and AR will be processing images faster than the human brain. As 5G networks are going live around the world, this opens up the way to better serve mobile customers with AR, VR, and gaming - with an experience that will be as close to real as possible, an unprecedented level of immersion, which will capture consumers’ attention and create unprecedented levels of customer engagement