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Comprehensive Guide to 3D eCommerce

3D ecommerce has changed consumer expectations about online shopping. Learn about the role of 3D modeling, how it affects customer engagement, sales, and competition. Read experts take on the future of 3D product ecommerce.

In this article, you’ll find:

What is 3D Commerce?


3D ecommerce uses Augmented Reality and VR 3D models embedded on website pages and mobile apps to give customers a graphical, interactive 3D representation of products. 3D ecommerce is also known as 3D modeling commerce, 3D commerce, or immersive commerce.

There are many reasons 3D has become a force in online retail, but they all narrow to a single focus: consumers. “Consumers want choice and convenience. Often, they want entertainment. And in some cases, they want to feel a deep affiliation with the brand. Immersive ecommerce can bring all these effects to customers,” explains Tony Parisi, Head of AR/VR Ad Innovation for Unity Technologies, creators of a real-time 3D development platform.

3D ecommerce offers a variety of engaging interactions: users can browse and interact with products through touch, swipe, or by dragging items across touchscreens. Some innovative retailers deploy Virtual Reality applications and virtual mirrors in their physical stores.


Why 3D Technology Is a Must-Have for ecommerce



Shawn Rothery, Director of 3D Content for Marxent, says, “There’s no question that the next generation of ecommerce is 3D. First, there was the internet, then mobile shopping—now it’s 3D everywhere.”

Unity’s Parisi adds that increasing realism increases a customer’s satisfaction, even before they buy. “The more intuitive and real-world the interaction and the more it enables product exploration from all angles the more it builds a high confidence in purchasing choices,” declares Parisi. “And nothing can provide a high production value entertainment experience like real-time 3D graphics.”



Here’s are some reasons why 3D is a consumer preference:

  • We Live in a Visual World: Humans are visually oriented. MIT neuroscientists confirmed that we identify images within 13 milliseconds, and 90 percent of all brain-processed information is visual. People prefer high-quality immersive shopping experiences, and research confirms it. The University of Texas Customer Dissatisfaction and Satisfaction with Augmented Reality in Shopping and Entertainment found that the higher the quality of AR visual and loading times, the higher the rate of consumer satisfaction. A year later, Artillry Intelligence reported that 73 percent of mobile AR users are satisfied or very satisfied with their experience.
  • Mixed Commerce and Omnichannel Marketing Builds Brand Bonds: Take AR and VR enriched ecommerce, add traditional brick and mortar stores, and you get mixed commerce. Mixed commerce supports the ability to display all SKUs, design complex products, and drive higher sales conversion through stickiness. Combine mixed commerce with other marketing channels, and consumers feel a more profound sense of brand allegiance. For example, Omnisend’s Omnichannel Marketing Automation Statistics Report 2019 found that customers who interact with omnichannel campaigns engage and purchase more often. That same study found that omnichannel campaigns improve ecommerce customer retention and attract customers who spend more when they make a purchase.
  • “Virtually Try Before You Buy” Fits Consumers and Boosts Sales: Whether it’s to ensure the fit of apparel, or determine the “in place” fit of furniture or appliances in the home, AR and VR work well for customers who want to see products before they buy.

That’s why mega-retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target, and apparel companies like Nordstrom, H&M, and Nike use AR and VR as a cornerstone of their overall marketing strategy.  Furniture retailers like La-Z-Boy and Ashley, cabinetry firms like American Woodmark, and kitchen and bath products manufacturers Robern and Kohler got into virtual sales early. They realized that allowing consumers to experience high-priced products in 3D in simulated environments shortened the sales cycle and increased customer satisfaction.

Video: AR+VR Retail App Demo

3D Commerce is Here to Stay – The Numbers Prove It

The SAP/eCommerce Foundation 2019 USA Ecommerce Report found that highly-engaged consumers spend 60 percent more per transaction and buy 90 percent more frequently. That engagement is the reason 3D will be integral to online retail into the future.

3D Product Modeling for eCommerce Is Efficient and Profitable

Experiencing products online in AR and VR may seem like an expensive proposition, but that’s not the case when you consider the relatively low cost of virtual photography and the benefits of faster sales and fewer returns.

  • Virtual Photography Is Economical: According to SAP’s 2019 Global Ecommerce Foundation Report, digital product visualization costs about .10 percent of the cost of traditional photography. Often in a competitive market, companies need to advertise products before manufacturing begins, something traditional photography can’t deliver. But 3D rendering and modeling can, along with multiple points of view, color and material variations, and the freedom to creatively compose and light products. In other words: computer-generated product visualizations have an extremely favorable return on investment (ROI).
  • 3D Imagery Expedites Sales Times: The right visual presentation can do the work of knowledgeable sales associates and save money on brick and mortar personnel. Consumers also value the ability to comparison shop—something they can easily do online, which quickly narrows down choices for a faster sale ultimately.
  • Fewer Returns: Consumers return anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of e-commerce purchases, usually because the product looks different in real life than on the retailer’s site. With high-quality images, consumers can manipulate and evaluate products based on real-life specs, which eliminates that problem and forestalls returns.

Every successful retailer knows that consumers are in control and demand extreme personalization and brand experiences to be satisfied, which is the definition of immersive commerce.

Measuring the Effects of 3D Ecommerce

Once you decide to invest in an AR or VR enhanced ecommerce site, you can take advantage of several types of analytic methods to pinpoint how the experience influences your buyer’s behavior.

Analytics tools for 3D Commerce include:

  • Google Analytics: Google Analytics and Google’s Enhanced eCommerce Analytics are free. The tools provide metrics at every stage of the sales process, like where traffic originates (mobile, tablet or desktop), product performance, and conversion rates. For a fee of about $150k per year, Google Analytics 360 offers comprehensive audit functions, almost 100 percent accuracy, and data refresh within four hours. This paid version includes Data-Driven Attribution modeling to determine online customer behavior.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) Analytics:Machine learning gathers information in real-time and applies it to user data enrichment, user identification across devices, intelligent ad personalization, and predictive analytics. AI uses natural language processes to contextualize and improve search results. Visual search capabilities also improve product matches.
  • Embedded Analytics: Some ecommerce platforms have backend integrated analytics included in their solution that provide insights almost instantly.
  • Social Media Analytics: Depending on the ecommerce platform, you can connect your online store to your social media pages like Facebook and Instagram and track for analysis.

What should you measure to understand your customer’s behaviors and buying patterns? Here are some metrics to consider:

  • Category Metrics: Understanding how the consumer engages by category and over time is fundamental to sales success. Other metrics to monitor are visitor repeat behavior, ad performance for retargeting, and the cost of customer service pre-sale. Use this data to evaluate products accurately, promote return visits, and consider category alternatives to offer new or returning customers.
  • Qualified Sales Metrics: These metrics can point the way to upsell opportunities to buyers who place orders after they’ve done their research and made a purchase. You can use these metrics to evaluate conversion over time, per visit revenue, the size of average orders, and acquisition costs. This information can help you understand a qualified buyer’s persona.
  • Post–Purchase Metrics: Data gathered after a purchase is proof that you’re doing things right and highlights where to make improvements. Tracking metrics like rate of return, customer support costs after the sale, buyer satisfaction rates, and the content of customer reviews provide valuable intelligence about brand perceptions.

Analyzing and measuring 3D ecommerce success offers the opportunity to refine product offerings and further enrich the customer experience. 

The Future of 3D Commerce from the Experts

Tony Parisi of Unity and Shawn Rothery of Marxent weigh-in on near-term experimentation, innovation, and the role brick and mortar will continue to play in immersive commerce.

Future Opportunities in 3D Commerce:

  • Experimentation and Content Creation: “In the near term, there will be experimentation around content creation, that is, how to create models of physical products so that we can represent them virtually for use in online catalogs, mobile AR, and virtual showrooms,” predicts Parisi. “For years, 3D content creation was the province of game developers and visual effects experts. But now, every marketer and online catalog manager is going to need to create and deliver 3D interactive models so consumers can experience products virtually before they buy. This activity is going to need to scale up fast and be usable by a range of content creators.”
  • Innovation in Imaging Solutions: “There are various imaging solutions in play, including photogrammetry, scanning, converting CAD models, and creating models by hand. They all have trade-offs,” Parisi notes. “Expect to see significant innovation in this area over the next five years. I love what Marxent is doing in this realm because, for many use cases, their platform can procedurally generate 3D models from product data, allowing for infinite variations and great scalability of content production.”
  • Enhancing the Physical World with Computer Vision (CV): CV is the field of study that develops and explores techniques to help computers see and understand the content of digital images such as photographs and videos. “CV not only recognizes the environment around you so you can place products for viewing—critical for great AR—but also recognizes images and objects, which enhances the physical world with additional information,” explains Parisi. “For example, with certain AR-enabled apps, you can point your phone’s camera at product packaging and reveal additional information about the product or launch entertaining companion content. In the not-too-distant future, this capability will be built into your phone (or some nifty new smart glasses device) for pretty much anything and everything in the physical world, not just specific retail products.”
  • The Role of Brick and Mortar: Physical stores do have a future, according to Parisi. “Nothing will ever replace the ability to physically experience products, or the personal touch of interacting in the real world with a retail professional,” stresses Parisi. “Yes, brick and mortar are having a tough time at the moment, but we’re starting to see immersive technology employed to enhance the in-store experience. That should increase retailers’ chances of survival. Here are some examples of what’s just ahead: AR used to add detailed product information in a virtual space and transforming merchandising into a highly entertaining experience. We’ll also see the use of VR for virtual tours or activities like home planning with the help of an in-store expert. AR and VR will also offer many more items via kiosks or displays than could ever be stocked physically to expand customer choice.”

Future Challenges in 3D Commerce:

  • Pipeline Integration: “Our next big step is full integration with digital merchant pipelines,” Marxent’s Rothery explains. “For example, Amazon AR: How do we make our content interact with them directly? Our guiding principle with 3D content is Make once and reuse everywhere, and that’s the way we are approaching integration issues. Marxent 3D Cloud is built for flexibility and adjusts quickly to support the needs of our partners.”
  • Digital Twining: “Companies need to have a strategy right now to create digital twins (3D representations) of everything in their product catalog,” says Parisi. “That’s a big ask, but at some point, that kind of content creation will become commonplace, as ubiquitous as photography. If retailers don’t do it, they will be left behind.”
  • Brand Storytelling: “Companies need to envision how a virtual and augmented world affects how they market and sell their products,” advises Parisi. “Beyond the basic 3D representation of the product, how do you tell your brand story with VR and AR? And how do you provide easy ways for consumers to discover, explore, and try your products in ways that improve the experience over today’s world? The world, where digital technology has made buying easy but, in some ways, left the fun of shopping behind?”
  • Ongoing Complexity: “The significant remaining barrier to truly having 3D everywhere is the cost and complexity of generating 3D content,” says Rothery. “We’ve overcome other barriers: orchestrating ordering and generation, QA of assets, obligations to multiple platforms, and establishing reasonable standards. We’re already supporting multiple standards, not just file formats like USDZ, FBX, or OBJ – but other 3D content platforms, like Wayfair and Amazon.”

The first step for any online retailer moving to 3D ecommerce is to decide the best ways to generate virtual images.

3D Product Imaging Process for Ecommerce

When retailers convert their 2D catalog into a 3D experience, they open the door to an interactive experience so customers can thoroughly inspect the object: rotate it, get a closeup or distance view, or move it around a virtual space.

To get the most from their 3D assets, retailers should evaluate imaging options, differences in quality, cost, and production speed, and potentially use several different methods.

There are three ways to create 3D images:

  • 3D Scanning: A scanner measures an item’s fine details. The scanner projects light on the product from multiple angles to capture a 3D image in point clouds. Since a 3D scanner interacts with a real object, this process is ideal for generating 3D models of a product that already exists.
  • Photogrammetry: Use a digital camera to photograph an object from multiple angles. Then, dedicated software joins those multiple photo images and senses interrelated patterns to create a 3D model of the object. This process mimics human stereoscopic binocular vision and uses the various angles to collect data about the subject’s volume, depth, and shape. Photogrammetry doesn’t produce perfect models, so a designer may need to tweak the final 3D images.
  • 3D Design: A 3D designer uses pictures, product dimensions, and other data to create a photorealistic 3D model. The designer doesn’t need to access the physical item and only requires several photo images to surmise or fill in the blanks of how the product should look. 3D design means the product doesn’t even have to live in physical reality; the designer can use digital prototypes to create 3D models. Scalability can be an issue with this high-touch process when it comes to creating a catalog with large numbers of SKUs.

To maximize the benefits of 3D images online, provide a variety of options: location in a room, angles, colors, style variations, or other options that work for your brand’s products.

Consider UI/UX and your mixed commerce and omnichannel strategies before deciding on a platform to deliver consumers the 3D experience. Laptop and desktop have the benefit of 3D viewers and product configurators at a larger scale, while mobile devices enable a more immersive AR experience. Think about whether products need a background, or more than one, and if consumers may need to add their own. You’ll also want to track metrics and use them to fine-tune the shopper’s experience.

Building in-house teams with the background to handle all of these tasks can be daunting. A lack of internal expertise can forestall 3D initiatives, or a company may simply lack the internal resources to develop an immersive content platform. That’s where a SaaS vendor can help.

Industry-Wide 3D Ecommerce Modeling Software Standards and Guidelines

Currently, the Khronos Groups, a consortium of retailers and technology companies, is leading the efforts to set standards for AR and VR. These standards are similar to those for 2D image file formats. For example, jpeg supports transfer across platforms and devices.

The aim of Khronos members is for people to experience 3D assets realistically and consistently across all Apple (iOS) and Android devices and social platforms. The group also wants to support existing AR and VR solutions and those in development.

For example, in 2018, Google added AR features to its search function so users can drop 3D models able into the real world at a proper scale. While not set at this moment, standardization will be a reality soon.

How to Choose a Quality 3D Ecommerce Visualization Platform

As technology improves, deciding which visualization platform to use comes down to assessing your own needs and what technical capabilities and features are available.

Marxent’s Rothery says as 3D ecommerce requirements have become more exacting, the bar goes up on the definition of quality. “Realism and speed are what denote quality right now,” Rothery stresses. “We’ve traditionally had a sliding scale between speed and quality—the faster the models loaded, the lower the quality. Now we need both.”

Other considerations have taken on more importance. Rothery adds, “The shape and size of the real item must be an exact match to the 3D product. The merchants want it to be exact. Also, models must be performant—they must render as close to instantly as possible—no downloading over time, even a few seconds.”

Rothery uses the work Marxent does for furniture manufacturers as an example. “There are two main considerations: first, the piece of furniture must be the same size and shape as the real-life counterpart—the scale and accuracy must be correct. Second, the materials (upholstery, leathers, woods) must look as realistic as possible, matching the real-world texture of the object.”

Video: Marxent’s 3D Product Visualization Platform: See How It Changes Online Retail

3D Ecommerce Self-Assessment Quiz: Are You Ready?

Take a look at your organization’s objectives, needs, and existing capabilities before launching a virtual online sales solution. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Use: How do you want to use 3D imagery and commerce? Do you need it right now?
  • Business Specifics: What is your field of activity/business? What are your brand objectives? What are your business and sales objectives?
  • Environment: What’s the competition doing?
  • Technical Considerations: What operating system do you use?
  • Expertise: What is your knowledge level of 3D? How user-friendly does the platform need to be?
  • Cost: What’s your budget?

Once you outline your objectives, the next step is to evaluate 3D platform capabilities.

3D Imaging Platform Selection Checklist
General Capabilities
Cloud-Based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) ecommerce platforms accessed on any web browser.
Security and Secure Payment Processing Safely share content with team members or third-parties; protect customer’s data. Payments should be possible through multiple secure forms of payment processing.
Image Quality Visuals should be as close to reality as possible and show design dimensions, color, and texture.
Analytics Track how potential customers interact with product imagery and present the most telling metrics in graphs or visuals like heat maps.
Scalability Readiness to handle varying sales volumes; solutions for fulfillment, accounting and warehouse management, CRM, and ERP systems that you can scale upward.
Speed The longer it takes to load your site, the higher the bounce rate. Check loading speeds and verify them.
Self-Service or Managed Options Choice of managing workflow in-hours or outsourcing to the vendor completely.
Simplicity Easy deployment with little or no training.
Mobile-Ready Mobile-ability should be top-of-mind in your vendor choice.
SEO When evaluating SEO features, check on page load time, mobile and desktop speed, and look at the average SEO organic traffic of existing online stores.
Integration Look for seamless integration with your current ecommerce system, as well as CRM, ERP, and PLM systems. Ensure the ability to integrate partners if you have them, and also look for the ability to integrate with social media, online marketplaces, and ecommerce apps.
Tech Support Support should be there as you need it, preferably 24/7.
3D Modeling Develop a mathematical representation of any surface of an object in three dimensions via specialized software.
3D Product Viewer Take a sequence of images and create an image that will rotate 360 degrees around its axis. The viewer should work on desktop and mobile and use touch and mouse events to rotate the object.
3D Social Media Create scenes merchandised to marketing objectives and shareable on social media.
3D Photo Replacement Use 3D models to replace high-cost photoshoots with high-quality 3D renders. Illuminates the details of products with accuracy while displaying a range of variations with realistic lighting.
360-Degree Viewer Generate a panoramic image that surrounds the original shooting point. Convert images uploaded to an app into a 360-degree photo or use a smartphone mobile app to convert them.
AR Capabilities Create merchandised product visuals that meet marketing objectives and share them on social media. Ideal functionality for marketers looking to promote and drive traffic to 3D Room Planner apps or for digital marketing campaigns on social media sites.
VR Capabilities A total immersion experience that blots out the physical world. Using VR devices to inhabit imagined and real-world environments.
Google AR for Visual Search Check into the ability to launch 3D models of your products directly from a Google search results page.
WebAR for 3D Advertising Leverage the same 3D models used for other applications into USDZ or GL Transmission Format (glTF) ads so users can play with your branded products in 3D.

Be sure to ask for customer referrals from potential vendors and do some comparison shopping before selecting a 3D ecommerce partner.

Marxent’s 3D Commerce Cloud Platform Drives Sales

Companies that want to thrive in the competitive retail landscape know they need to provide a high-quality 3D experience to their customers. They also know acquiring that expertise in-house isn’t always easy. That’s when outsourcing 3D modeling can make all the difference.

Marxent provides compelling 3D models (including AR and VR) that drive sales and keep customers. Top furniture retailers use Marxent 3D Cloud-powered 3D product visualization apps to superpower sales and reduce returns.

Learn more about Marxent 3D Cloud asset management for ecommerce.


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