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Is the future of eCommerce 3D products? Shopify thinks so.

October 6, 2020


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“The future we imagined is here..” according to Common on the latest Microsoft TV commercial and he’s right. 3D, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) is that future and it’s coming to your Shopify store soon.

At this year’s Shopify Unite (Shopify’s premiere annual expo), they announced that 3D support will be made available on their platform using WebGL technology. Where once you were limited to just uploading images of your products, you will very soon be able to upload 3D objects.

If your jaws not yet hit the floor yet, then please keep reading as this is huge news.

So how is this achieved?

Unlike commonly seen 360 image views where an array of images are sewn together to create what is simply a fancy slideshow of a product, we are talking about 3D objects being rendered entirely in your Chrome, Firefox, or IE browser all possible using WebGL.

Web Graphics Library, or WebGL for short, is a Javascript API based on the OpenGL 3D graphics standard. WebGL is used for rendering interactive 2D and 3D objects. WebGL can display complex images, animations and physics simulations quickly inside an internet browser.

You can freely position the camera in any position. Light acts dynamically and interacts with the object by either reflecting off shiny surface materials like glass and metals or being absorbed by soft materials like leather.

You can then interact with the product dynamically, changing colors of table tops and legs to changing all in real-time.

Will 3D renders replace product images?

A 3D render is a perfect rendition of an object’s lighting, positioning, and poise. Visual creations that are directly transplanted from the creator’s mind. You won’t (currently) see natural curves, scuffs in material, tiny nooks on leather shoes, creases on a shirt, etc. As much as we think we want perfection, I also believe subconsciously we look for imperfections as imperfections are what make things truly real.

Whilst I don’t think it’s time to ditch the Canon SLR just yet, it is time to embrace the future and to allow customers to explore your products in ways we once could have only imagined in the past.

So what does 3D support mean for Shopify merchants?

Viewing products in 3D was once reserved for the large, multi-million dollar brands, like car manufacturers, with deep pockets to invest in innovative experiences for new potential customers. Shopify’s announcement that it will soon accept 3D objects means that the doors to AR (Augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) are now open. 3D Product imaging on Shopify stores will soon become commonplace and the cost of 3D development will fall as the practice becomes mainstream.

For one of our clients who sell a range of handbags with endless combination possibilities, 3D imagining makes a whole world of sense. What would have been a monumentally epic task of taking 1,600+ photos of every possible bag combination can actually all be achieved in a fraction of the time and internet bandwidth using 3D technology.

Enhancing the shopping experience with AR

We are seeing the next evolution of the digital user experience. Showing a simple to complex objects on a VR headset – allowing the viewer to: inspect every element, walk around the object or rotate around the object with a finger stroke on a touchscreen device.

Imagine viewing a handbag where the front, back, and side panels, handle, fabric and color can be changed – all happening in front of you dynamically – and then you can purchase it. (We are actually currently creating this for a client, demo link coming soon.)

Or imagine, just like in Shopify’s own demonstration, a desk that can be inspected top to bottom. Imagine clicking on the part of the table where the leg connects to the table-top and seeing a hot spot for the user that, once clicked, shows you the type of screws and tools you need; better yet, shows you the table coming together in a speed of your choice from any angle. Once the table is erected you can then view it positioned in your living room. using AR.

At Unite, Shopify showed off a stunning example of AR with Tapcart’s AR app in collaboration with, online fashion retailer, Fashion Nova where users were able to mix and match clothes to make a ‘flat-lay’ of a completed look.

Final thoughts

One thing I’ve learned is that the future is hard to predict. You can actually google blogs created in 2016 stating that “responsive web design” is just a passing fad (I can’t believe the authors didn’t remove these blogs after they became clearly inaccurate)

I think the best way to look at 3D product/VR is by looking at its external related factors, such as:

  • Is it being adopted by major retailers who sell to the masses?
  • Are VR headsets sales such as Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR on the rise?
  • Are people accepting this is a new medium – is it becoming mainstream?
  • Does this solve a real need?
  • Does this make the internet better, convenient and efficient?

From what I’ve seen so far based on the above, the answer is YES. Shopify is ramping things up with a beta program and 3D API connections. No date is confirmed for the release at the time of writing – my best bet is Q4 2018 in time for the holiday season.

If you would like to learn more about Shopify or having 3D product renders created for your store, book a free consultation.

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