CB2 powers the customer experience through interactive technology

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Interactive 3D and augmented reality are rapidly moving from the “wow” of possibility to the brilliance of usefulness. Consider, for example, being able to view a couch from all angles on a mobile device — no app required — then virtually dropping it into a living room to see how it fits. It’s now possible through a partnership between Crate and Barrel sister brand CB2 and tech innovator Vertebrae.

CB2, purveyor of edgy and elevated modern furniture and home décor, often serves a tech-savvy and tech-forward customer. As a result, it’s “constantly looking to innovate and find new and interesting ways to connect and engage with our target customers — and to make their path to purchase easier,” says Samie Barr, vice president of marketing.

The company was evaluating a broad range of ideas and providers when it came across Vertebrae.

“Our background and our mission have always been to provide 3D and augmented reality that drives results,” says Vertebrae founder and CEO Vince Cacace. Over the past 10 years, varying levels of AR have existed with limited access. Retailers like IKEA have begun including it with their apps, but “there’s typically a low percentage of traffic that goes to an app unless you’re Amazon,” he says.

“We understand the value and benefit that 3D and AR can provide to the shopping experience, which is making it more lifelike,” Cacace says. “And we view some of the capabilities as being better than the in-store experience.”

That’s especially the case when items like a couch can be “tried out” in a different environment — and all the more so when the technology is available for thousands of products rather than just a few.

‘CONFIDENCE TO BUY’

Earlier this year, CB2 launched a pilot of 3D and AR capabilities with roughly 160 furniture pieces and larger accessories; in coming months, it intends to launch about 500 more across multiple product categories. So far, so good: Of the visitors on those pilot pages, about 6 percent are interacting with the product, bringing a 7 percent increase in sales, a 21 percent increase in revenue per visit and a 13 percent increase in average order value. Those numbers include even those who don’t use the tools.

“As I’m shopping and interacting with some of these types of tools, it gives me the confidence to buy if I can see what those products look like in my home, gives me a sense of scale and how they go with things I already have,” says Dave Widmer, senior director of CB2 ecommerce. “It creates more of an emotional connection.”

In order to access the tools, the user clicks on a small “View 3D” box on the product photo. If viewing from a desktop, it pulls up a QR code to be read by an Apple or Android mobile device. If already on mobile, the user goes directly into the experience, with the choice to begin with 3D or AR.

The goal was to prioritize the mobile-first experience across CB2’s ecommerce. More than half of the company’s ecommerce traffic comes through mobile, and that’s still “growing really rapidly,” Widmer says.

The 3D and AR functions are just a portion of the digital tools CB2 is using; there’s also computer-generated imagery for custom upholstery and art when it would be cost-prohibitive to send samples, as well as virtual reality for consumers who want to visualize multiple products for their home simultaneously. The latter is through a partnership with Modsy.

“We’re testing and piloting our way into many of the areas that fall under this [computer-generated imagery] umbrella,” Widmer says. “As we’re testing our way into this and investing, we’re making a lot of decisions about doing it in-house or partnering with companies that have a lot more experience.”

Vertebrae ticked the experience box — as well as the ability to bring speed to market. CB2 particularly wanted to include the tools on its recent CB2 + GQ collection.

“We love powering very visually beautiful, high-fidelity experiences,” says Cacace, whose company has also worked with Tumi, Party City, 1-800-Flowers, Toyota, Coach and Herschel Supply Co. Vertebrae typically partners with brands that offer “higher-consideration” products where the inability to visualize the product being used — or being worn, or at proper scale — could create a pain point in the online shopping experience.

With CB2, he says, “the products that they sell are just so awesome compared with a lot of what exists in the market.” The target market is interested in having the kind of experiences Vertebrae can help provide, so there has been “total alignment,” he says.

“As I’m shopping and interacting with some of these types of tools, it gives me the confidence to buy if I can see what those products look like in my home.” — Dave Widmer, CB2

CB2 has been quick and early to dive in — even with using augmented reality on the desktop browser for ecommerce. “That was something that CB2 really pioneered on our platform,” he says. “Typically, what you’re up against is … this trend where mobile traffic is up, but conversion is down. We think that through 3D and AR — these mobile-native technologies that use all the features of the device — we can combat and start to correct that imbalance.”

CREATING WORKFLOW

Vertebrae first brought AR to the web browser through a campaign for Lionsgate a few years back. “Since then, we’ve really homed in on what it takes to deliver an augmented reality experience inside the browser,” Cacace says.

“All of our competition was really focusing on the native application side of that. We said we actually need to be able to develop our own computer vision library, and all of these things not off-the-shelf to be able to power these experiences inside the browser … That was the core differentiator, and what’s allowed us to accelerate and to bring on big clients and support them with very successful results.”

The other factor, he says, is Vertebrae’s ability to create workflows for retailers who suddenly need to understand what it means to produce and manage large volumes of 3D assets, sometimes with both internal and external teams.

From here, the next horizon for exploration is the use of 3D assets across every touchpoint, such as Google search results, Instagram and Facebook.

“We believe 3D and AR are opening up across every channel for a customer to be able to shop,” he says. “It’s no longer just on a retailer’s site.” That requires proper formats and file types, and that’s where Vertebrae has its eye.

“The main thing there is that we view 3D and AR as very utility-driven, versus splashy awareness-driven,” he says. The company developed a white paper with galvanic skin response testing, he says, discovering that nearly eight in 10 shoppers preferred shopping with 3D and AR over photos and video.

“We see and understand the long-term opportunity,” Cacace says. “When you can provide a short, simple experience with utility and value that drives a result, that’s the key.”

Fiona Soltes, a freelancer based near Nashville, Tenn., loves a good bargain almost as much as she loves a good story.

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