Challenges & solutions

3D modeling standards: Enabling excellence for the future of retail imagery

It’s no secret that setting definitive guidelines in the early stages of new technology accelerates progress and encourages adoption. When it comes to 3D visuals, this couldn’t ring truer. The representation of products in 3D, particularly in e-commerce and retail, has unbounded potential for growth. Solidifying standards not only allow retailers to solve common problems rapidly but will also continue to enable the adoption of 3D in the industry. Recent research from Dimensional Research shows that 87% of retailers agree CGI and 3D image creation are necessary technologies for our product visualization strategy, but data from Coresight Research reminds us that only 50% are currently leveraging this technology.

 With new opportunities in 3D emerging rapidly, the benefits of leveraging 3D visuals are increasing. But concerns, including varying quality levels from artists stemming from unique standards formed by in-house research and development teams, frequent inconsistencies, and a lack of understanding of how to use and display the final images, create obstacles that can make adoption difficult. Indeed, it’s no wonder that, according to Coresight Research, 65% of brands and retailers struggle with managing and producing product visuals.

Adoption of 3D in retail is increasing

“We all have identified challenges that we face together. So we put our minds together and figure out solutions, not only for our individual use cases but also for the ecosystem at large,” notes Eric Chadwick, Staff Technical Artist and Senior Manager at Wayfair. Let’s explore the standards currently in development, primarily through The Khronos Group and its membership of leading retailers, that are crafted with the aim of unifying the industry and ultimately helping retailers to craft next-generation customer experiences.

3D modeling guidelines — Universal 3D standards for e-commerce

 The Khronos Group is a large member-driven consortium that sets standards across 3D, machine learning, augmented reality (AR), and a number of other emerging technologies. They are creators of the glTFTM file format responsible for unifying 3D assets for artists, among many other widely used standards. The 3D Commerce Working Group, which is part of this consortium, has set out to “remove the barriers to deploying 3D in e-commerce at industrial scale.” They focus on ensuring transparency and congruity in each step of 3D creation from artist to consumer. 

Khronos and over 70 retailers involved in the 3D Commerce Working Group, including IKEA and Wayfair, use their different areas of expertise to develop standardized guidelines for image creation bringing new ideas and perspectives as to why problems exist and how to solve them efficiently and effectively to reduce friction for future retailers looking to embrace 3D. 

Progress for all stakeholders

 Each stakeholder has guidelines for smooth transitions between artists and tool makers, retailers, and consumers. The 3D Commerce Working Group organized the best methods for artists and tool makers through Asset Creation Guidelines. This open-source summary standardizes the latest advancements in the industry, paving the way for consistent content generation. This includes data to regulate file formats and structure, lighting for 3D assets, scale and measurement systems, and more. Access to this knowledge aids in quality control and defines expectations of what 3D imagery should look like when presented to retailers.

For retailers, new tools created as a result of these guidelines — like Facebook’s meld tool compatible with the glTF format — give retailers more options for creating variants of existing products that simplify the product creation pipeline. IKEA uses this tool to generate variants of similar furniture models in different colors and patterns to reflect their expansive catalog. These types of advancements allow these retailers to continue providing new products to consumers regularly. 

Defining real impact for retailers and e-commerce

Creating a universal framework capable of bringing 3D imagery to a broader audience by eliminating uncertainty reduces entry barriers while solving problems that cause retailers to be hesitant. Retailers like IKEA and Wayfair are at the forefront of defining the impacts 3D modeling and images will have on the future of retail.

Chadwick stresses the importance of understanding the building blocks of 3D assets to achieve success: “All the technical stuff will come later, but without that fundamental foundation, you just can’t build.”

Becoming familiar with the fundamentals of 3D assets made available via open-source documents drastically reduces the cost of adopting 3D technology. A lack of knowledge doesn’t restrict companies without research and development teams, and retailers can embrace the benefits. IKEA’s creation of variations of similar products and Wayfair’s usage of 3D to elicit more interaction between products and consumers drive real impact for sales conversions and positive customer experiences. For example, leveraging 3D technology has enabled some Nfinite customers to realize a 2.3x increase in engagement rate and a 49% increase in conversion rate. 

Building the ideal customer experience

The adoption of 3D visuals— and the available guidelines — will empower retailers to build better experiences for their customers. Standards allow brands and retailers to move faster and put products on more channels. Beyond their own stores, they can more easily sell on marketplaces, social media, the metaverse, and more. The closer we get to 3D files becoming universal, the more retailers and consumers benefit, as visuals will become higher quality and more consistent across channels.

And the immersive experiences consumers have across channels are elevated by the work these standards enable. Retailers can enable consumers to place products in their own space, interact with realistic virtual replicas on product pages to help them make informed purchasing decisions, or visualize products in their environment. 

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3D modeling standards: Enabling excellence for the future of retail imagery

June 26, 2023

Q2 2023

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