Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

Failed love story?
Ecommerce and 3D.

In this article we will explore the fit between 3D product representations and eCommerce. I.e. why have we not seen 3D implemented into online shopping on a great scale, albeit the technology being available for more than a decade and being a good fit with the needs of eCommerce.

Jan Stephan
Co-Founder of VRxs

When looking at eCommerce the advantages of 3D product representations are obvious. You can’t get closer to the real product, except with a visit to your local brick-and-mortar store. So why haven’t online shops adopted this technology? Why does not every single online shop use 3D representation to increase conversions and drop their rate of returns? All qualitative and quantitative studies as well as promising results of early adopters in the industry indicate the benefits of selling products in 3D.

The problem so far

Looking back, the attempts to mass sell consumer ready virtual reality technology started as early as 1995 in the gaming industry with the launch of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. It continues to this day with for example Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s Mixed Reality. They all failed to take off and still kind of fail to attract a decent number of customers and content developers nowadays. Nearly 25 years and loads of technological leaps later and the market still seems to be uninterested. The gaming world is just one example of many, and gamer are by far one of the most interested groups when it comes to adapting new technology. Loads of attempts were also made in E-commerce as well as in the educational sector. There are of course a few instances where the use of 3D technology in eCommerce was successful. Lately 3D technology has been used by for example Adidas with the Deerupt campaign. Customers, who had the empty box of a pair of Deerupts could scan a little marker and experience the Deerupt in augmented reality through their smartphone. Imagine the costs of this campaign alone. Developing this kind of know-how just to show one pair of shoes seems like a waste. Keep in mind that this kind of publicity stunt is only doable for the big players in the market. Small manufacturers as well as re-sellers or your average online shops can only dream of making this kind of money, let alone spending it, to market one specific launch of a pair of shoes.

Taking all this into consideration one can say that 3D technology until now was not ready to be implemented into ecommerce in a fast, scalable and affordable way. All solutions so far meant for the customer to join an ecosystem via for example downloading an app or buy expensive hardware. Companies, small and big alike, did not fare better. Developing and maintaining 3D technology to present your products, which is ready to serve millions of customers per day, is not an easy task and certainly an expensive one. This has been the case since the dawn of this technology, even if it was readily available for nearly 25 years now.

Although e-commerce is as an ever-growing industry, online shops face a bulk of problems even when not considering implementing new technology. Keeping conversion rates high in a very competitive market as well as an increasing number of consumers returning products are diminishing profitability. To tackle this problem head on online shops need to stand out as well as to present their products in a way the consumers are less likely to return them.

Products do not meet expectations of buyers

In 2017 nearly 51% of all customers reported a dissatisfaction with the products they received because they did not meet their expectations (Centiro). This is mainly because pictures have a hard time to come close to reality, which allows customers to inspect the products from all sides and gain a good overview of the looks and functionality. Furthermore, in a study from 2019 nearly 41 % of all online shops interviewed, reported to spend between 10-21% of their total marketing budget for conversion optimisation alone (Trakken). To make it short acquiring and retaining customers as well as making them keep the products bought is a great deal in e-commerce.

of buyers reported a dissatisfaction with the products because they did not meet their expectations

Centiro, 2017

3D product representations could be the perfect solution for these challenges but there are four main reasons they were not implemented yet although the technology was accessible:

  • The costs:
  • Developing a way to present products in 3D online is not cheap. Especially the costs of creating the 3D product representations must be considered as well. While the costs for both investments could be absorbed by big players on the market, re-sellers and smaller shops do not have this kind of resources available.

  • Time spent to implement:
  • Online 3D product presentation requires custom development and coding. Setting up and finishing such a project will need anywhere between one to twelve months, depending on the resources available.

  • Data heaviness:
  • When customers want to view the 3D product presentations enormous amount of data need to be sent. Model seize ranged from 800 MB, which is roughly equal in size to a high-resolution movie, to at least 50 MB, which is still a good portion of an episode of a tv-series.

  • Hardware of the customers:
  • Mobiles and Laptops of the past just did not have the processing power to work with the 3D product representations.

Times have changed

Standing out from the competition, presenting products in a realistic way and showing all potential technical functionalities can only be done via 3D representations of products. These representations are nowadays still rare in online shop, hence shops using them stand out among the competition. 3D representations, when done with care, are also as close as possible to the real product. The realism possible when capturing a product in 3D is truly amazing, especially when all up to date technology is used the right way. Furthermore, 3D representations have a huge advance compared to product images: They can be animated. This means that all functions of a product can be shown online without the help of videos or text-elements.

With 3D product representations customer of online shops are able

  • to view products from every side and angle

  • to zoom in and see even the smallest product details

  • to learn about relevant product characteristics

  • get to know all functionalities for a better understanding

Although VR, AR and 3D technology have been praised as the next technological leap many times they have disappointed a lot of expectations, when it comes to mass market solutions: Nonetheless, this time it is happening for real. It is indeed possible to connect this amazing technology with ecommerce. 3D technology will change the way we shop online, and the change will happen very fast and very soon. The love story is about to happen:

3D product representations could be the perfect solution for these challenges but there are four main reasons they were not implemented yet although the technology was accessible:

  • Considering the costs
  • One of the main obstacles is nowadays a non-factor. There is now no need to develop tailor-made solutions for every online shop. 3D product representations nowadays can be implemented via platforms, which truly slashes barriers to use them on a grand scale. Furthermore, Platforms also not only allow to implement 3D product representation on webpages but on any digital channel, be they mobile or desktop based. Implementation into an online shop can be done in as little as 5 minutes via for example VRxs infrastructure. There is little to no technical knowledge involved to get the system up and running.

  • Considering the time spent to implement:
  • There is no need for the customers to install an app or buy expensive hardware anymore to join a 3D ecosystem as a customer. 3D product representations can be enjoyed via mobiles, Laptops or Tablets already present in nearly every household. Furthermore, the big tech giants are busily integrating 3D into their respective products. Googles Android for example, as well as Apple's iOS natively support 3D files nowadays.

  • Considering data heaviness:
  • The data heaviness of the models is nowadays easily compensated by new forms of data compression and the access of the average online shopper to fast and reliable bandwidth. Even when going out most online shoppers have their mobile with enough bandwidth on them to experience products in 3D through their favourite online shop.

  • Considering the hardware of the customers:
  • The processing power of modern gadgets is high enough to support many 3D file formats and thereby allowing any ecommerce business to implement 3D into their shop, without losing customers because of technical barriers.


To put all of this into a nutshell. Most barriers when implementing 3D product representations in eCommerce are non-existent nowadays. The first early adopters are already on the market reaping the benefits. Finally, there is love possible between the world of eCommerce and 3D technology.

  • Customers can easily access products representation by any device and inspect them like in a brick-and-mortar store.

  • Customers can understand products much better due to the possibility to animate and explain functionality of products

  • Online shops can enjoy higher conversion rates because of these two above mentioned factors as well as a drop of return rates.

  • Implementing this technology is nowadays as easy as can be.

A true match made in heaven, it just took a while.

Jan Stephan
Co-Founder of VRxs

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