For an aesthetics-driven industry, design has been extremely slow to embrace technical visualization tools. Instead, furniture brands have long relied on sending out fabric memos, sample finishes, and mockups to illustrate custom options to their designer clients. While the digital technology needed to instantly show what such personalization would look like has been around for years (and has long been used by mass retailers), the cost of modernizing trade catalogs – often containing thousands of SKUs with hundreds choice of coatings and finishes – was something that industry brands could not justify.
This has started to change in recent years, as inquiries from designers and their clients about these tools have become more frequent and a glut of third-party companies offering the technology has emerged, cutting costs. Even before the pandemic accelerated the world’s convenience with digital commerce, many retail-oriented brands had started developing 3D configurators or augmented reality features to allow designers and their customers to see parts such as these. that they would actually happen, with tailor-made choices. “Providing customers with the ability to digitally customize a 3D model before placing an order was starting to seem like the cost of doing business,” explains Neil MacKenzie, the vice president of marketing for Universal Furniture. “It was becoming an expectation of the end user, and we wanted to be able to meet that expectation. “
Universal is hardly alone. Design industry companies, from furniture brand Fairfield and lighting company Regina Andrew Detroit, to luxury rug supplier The Rug Company and custom kitchen maker L’Atelier Paris, have rolled out virtual visualization tools over the past year, an initiative that bridges the growing disconnect between selling a luxury product and delivering an analog personalization experience.
Courtesy of L’Atelier Paris
Universal began exploring the possibility of developing a 3D configurator in 2018, then accelerated the process after the brand’s parent company, Samson Holding, acquired custom upholstered furniture maker Southern Furniture in October 2019, resulting in allowed Universal to expand its custom capabilities. In addition to offering customization to designers, the configurator has enabled the brand to effectively convey the message of change. “It was the best way to make everyone aware of the extent of what was on offer, especially now with the difficulty of getting samples due to the ongoing supply chain issues,” explains MacKenzie. In the fall of 2020, Universal partnered with an external company, Cylindo, to launch its 3D configurator, which features more than 400 fabrics, 50 leathers, six foot finishes and three nail head options on customizable parts, in a few clicks. Sales members are also able to see in real time the impact of each choice on the price of a product.
Relying on a third party to create these visualization tools is a hallmark of this virtual boom. Most design brands just don’t have the capacity to build a platform in-house, and many vendors are eager to fill the void. In addition to Cylindo, there is Jola Interactive, who has worked with Fairfield; Intiaro, who partnered with Ethan Allen and Kravet; All3D, who worked with Skyline Furniture and John robshaw; and Threekit, who has worked with heavyweights like Steelcase and Crate & Barrel. The rush of competitors is helping to drive down prices and make 3D visualization more accessible for small brands, but it’s still not cheap enough, at least not yet (Universal has invested over $ 200,000 in its tool. special order upholstery since 2019, by MacKenzie.)
For commercial brands, the partnership with third-party companies allows them to create 3D models of the thousands of references they sell. The companies provide CAD drawings and specifications of their products to 3D modeling companies, who send those specifications to a team of modelers (usually located overseas – the ones who created the models for Universal were in Macedonia). The drafts are then sent back to the brand for approval and modifications. MacKenzie says making the models is the longest part of the process, which usually takes a few months. But once they’re there, adding new options, like showing off a different leg finish, is a snap.
However, not all brands have gone the third-party route. Regina Andrew already had an in-house modeling team, which streamlined the process. It only took three months to develop the first batch of models, totaling 198 products, all of which went live over the summer. Management decided to focus on augmented reality instead of personalization, taking the realistic 3D models they used in-house, tweaking the quality to make it as authentic as possible, and allowing users to ‘place’ virtually the products in their own projects. “Part of the complexity of creating this type of thing is actually having good models that don’t look fake or ‘video game’ – you want to achieve a realistic look,” explains Jim Bonomo, director of brand operations. “It’s almost an extension of your photography. It’s your intellectual property, and you need to make sure it looks like the real thing.
Part of what kept the company from launching the technology earlier was the desire to host it on their website instead of developing an app, which was a common workaround when the technology started rolling out. few years ago. “We saw a separate application as a bottleneck,” says Bonomo. “It should have been maintained and updated separately from our site, so we decided to wait until the capabilities caught up to the point where we could host everything on the site. “
Courtesy of The Rug Company
Being able to keep customers on one website instead of directing them to an app to view a part in AR, and then hopefully coming back to the site to make a purchase has not only simplified the user experience, but has also made it easier. gave brands a more concise way to glean information. There is a lot of data that can be collected when someone uses a 3D configurator or AR function, from which the elements draw the most attention to the time that users spend at the site where those users are located.
Since launching last year, Universal has seen an average of more than 68,000 unique configurations created each month, with an all-time high of 102,000 in March. The company also saw an increase in overall time spent on site by one minute and 20 seconds. (It might not seem like much, but on average, people spend only about 45-62 seconds on a given page.) “And that increase is also coming from consumers, not necessarily professional members, which is a huge change for us. . “Says MacKenzie.” The end consumer can’t get a lot of information on our site. We’re not Crate & Barrel – they won’t know how much something costs or when it might be shipped, so for them to move on. still have time to use this tool, it is quite revealing.
Since The Rug Company launched its 3D configurator in early 2021, the brand has seen sales increase directly, CEO reports James Seuss. “Carpet purchases are usually not an instant buy, but a thoughtful purchase,” he says. “People like to take their time and think about it. And when you add custom edits to that, it took a bit of time. You had to go through our salespeople, who then had to have custom works of art made. It saves a lot of time this way and people can move a little faster through the decision-making process. We have seen a lot of custom colored rugs added to the baskets this year.
Once brands see the value of investing in visualization tools, there seems to be no turning back. The benefits of its existing visualization tool inspired Universal to switch to AR functionality, a feature the brand has already started rolling out to some products. “Offering these tools and giving designers and clients the ability to see the details of what they’re creating, justifies the price and helps us stand out,” he says. “Now if only that helped uptime. “
Front page photo: © Tierney / Adobe Stock