It isn’t from a new sci-fi movie, but many will agree the swift evolution of retail technology almost seems to mirror the world of Star Trek. A new entry into the world of ecommerce, 3D product imaging allows consumers to interact with products in a whole new way, allowing for dynamic three-dimensional video to take the place of traditional 2D static representation.
Hearing about it is one thing. Seeing it in action is quite another.
American Greetings, a leader in the social expressions industry since 1906, is an early patron of this technique. A quick visit to its website and a click on any item labeled “new” will unleash the magic: Just select the 360-degree tab, and then use the mouse (or a finger, for those on a mobile device) to drag and rotate the image.
“Shopping for a card online is very different than shopping in a store,” says Rob Matousek, general manager for direct-to-consumer ecommerce at American Greetings. “Our research indicated that online customers often had questions about the quality of the paper or the finishes, and sometimes the 2D images don’t do a good job of showing the detail we put into our products — such as foil hot stamps embossing, or different paper stocks. These features add value to our products.
“Our decision to move on this was based on our desire to give consumers confidence in the quality of the product, by allowing them to see those features they previously would see only when holding it in their hands.”
Examining the product this way also mimics the experience of opening a greeting card — something consumers instinctively do when shopping in a store. “Being able to experience the product in a similar sequence is really part of the buying process,” Matousek says.
“That in-store experience of looking at the cover, then reading the contents is really what we were looking for.”
The company responsible for the technology is Cappasity Inc., founded in 2013 with the goal of establishing standards for creating, embedding and analyzing 3D and augmented reality/virtual reality content.
“Our dream was to revolutionize the online retail world with our technical knowledge,” says William Hoo, business development director. “But we wanted the solution to be scalable so that it would bring added value to our clients.”
For Cappasity Inc., scalability refers primarily to the software’s capacity to support content for many SKUs within its cloud-based system.
After several years of research, the company introduced its current version of its Easy 3D Scan software in 2017. American Greetings began uploading content in July 2018.
Operating on a software-as-a-service model, Cappasity Inc. has brought 3D digitizing to a new level of accessibility. In fact, merchants can do it in-house: The Easy 3D Scan tool allows users to create a 3D image of a product with the most rudimentary equipment and virtually no technical expertise. The process consists of simply placing the product on a slowly moving turntable, then shooting a video with a smartphone as the product rotates.
“We then upload that video to a desktop equipped with Cappasity Inc.’s Easy 3D Scan software,” Matousek says. “The software converts the video into a 3D image, which in turn is uploaded to Cappasity Inc.’s cloud server, where they host it on our product detail page in an iframe we put on the page.”
An iframe (or inline frame) is an HTML document inserted into a similar such document within a given website. This type of micro document can be added to its larger counterpart, or modified without having to revise the entire webpage, resulting in a high degree of efficiency.
COMPATIBILITY AND FEEDBACK
Cappasity Inc.’s 3D product imaging utilizes HTML 5 coding, which allows it to work on any web browser operating on any platform, such as a desktop running Windows or a mobile device using iOS or Android.
Compatibility with that platform represents a huge plus for American Greetings’ business. “Knowing that mobile would be ever more important for us, we thought about how the user gestures when using a handheld device,” Matousek says. “The ability to rotate the image left to right with one finger has emerged as a great solution.”
By allowing the customer to inspect a product in 3D, the online shopping experience more closely resembles traditional in-store browsing. Cappasity Inc. claims the technology can increase conversions by some 30 percent, resulting in greater profitability.
Realizing that retailers will want to assert copyright protection of their content, Cappasity Inc.’s software also contains a blockchain feature, where identifying information is securely stored to safeguard authorship. In addition, retailers can license their content to any third party.
Another device in Cappasity Inc.’s high-tech toolbox is Cappasity.AI, a set of algorithms that analyze visitors’ online 3D views to infer customer likes and dislikes, providing the merchant with valuable feedback.
For an even more immersive customer experience, Cappasity Inc. also offers VR/AR shopping, which involves the customer donning 3D goggles to enter a virtual “store” where they can make purchases from Cappasity Inc.’s platform via catalog synchronization of the retailer’s catalog.
American Greeting’s use of 3D product scanning is still in its infancy, which prevents a critical assessment of its effectiveness.
“Our business is highly seasonal, and to date we haven’t gone through a full set of sales cycles. Because of this, we’ve yet to receive any statistical data as to the concept’s effectiveness. The jury is out as to how it’s affecting conversions rates,” Matousek says.
“But I will tell you that qualitatively we’ve received positive responses from shoppers. We feel the purpose for putting this technology on our site will help our customers evaluate the quality of our products. Right now, we can only associate that feedback with what we expect will be better conversion rates.”
Currently, only visitors to American Greetings’ website can access the 3D videos; the material is unavailable to third-party retailers offering its products on their sites. But that may soon change.
“The retailers are looking to us to be the experts in how to merchandise our product category. And at the same time, they have constrained technology resources. So to come to them with a solution we recommend, we have to be supremely confident it will be effective and worthwhile,” Matousek says.
“We’re using our platform to test out this new technology, and once we have solid statistical evidence this will work, we will absolutely go to our retailers and suggest they invest in this concept. And we’ll be there to help them make it happen.”
Detroit-based Paul Vachon writes for various trade publications, in addition to feature stories for consumer magazines and books on Michigan history and travel.