Bridging the online / offline gap

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae, talks about why 3D and AR technology are here to stay in the furniture industry following its success with DFS.

It’s no secret that online has accelerated rapidly over the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many businesses are turning to their digital offering and either revamping platforms or embarking on a completely new journey.

The overall aim is to bridge the gap for consumers that are increasingly trusting online trading so that their experience is second to none, especially when buying big ticket items such as sofas, mattresses and beds.

One particular company making waves with their digital capabilities is sofa retailer DFS. They recently further embraced technology with the introduction of its new ‘visual search’ concept, but this article will focus on another aspect DFS is growing.

3D and AR.

So, we spoke to Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae – the platform that has transformed how DFS uses these solutions within the furniture industry.

But first. What does Vertebrae do?

Vertebrae provides 3D and augmented reality (AR) solutions for commerce that transform the way consumers interact with retail brands. Vertebrae’s award winning immersive commerce platform allows retailers to rapidly transform their existing eCommerce offerings with 3D and AR experiences that help customers fully visualize and try out products as they research and buy – across touchpoints, on any device, and with no app download required.

Why is this a must for furniture retailers?

Vince explains: “Seeing how furniture will look in real-life environments prior to purchase helps drive more informed purchase decisions: shoppers can see how items match other décor and fit the available physical space. 3D and AR experiences are so effective that consumers are 11 times more likely to buy furniture if they have had the opportunity to see how it looks in their home environment using AR, according to data from Apple.

“It’s not surprising, then, that some of the earliest 3D and AR experiences were introduced by furniture sellers such as Ikea and Wayfair. But these experiences were buried in apps, which reach a small percentage of brand audiences, and which take users outside the eCommerce path to purchase, therefore limiting the sales impact.”

Since launch in 2015, Vertebrae has uniquely focused on providing unmediated, Web-based access to the rich possibilities of immersive commerce with no app required. 

“Immersive experiences are now even more important due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has intermittently shuttered showrooms and retail stores. Vertebrae survey data shows that nearly half of consumers are still reluctant to shop in-store, and 54% say they’d like to use AR to see items in their real-life environments to help offset the loss of opportunities for in-person inspection,” Vince says.

“When furniture retailers deploy 3D and AR assets directly within the eCommerce environment, whether for mobile or desktop, the results are striking. Not only can they drive higher conversion rates and revenue per visit, but average order size can grow, because customers can vividly experience the benefits and features of higher-end pieces – for example using 3D tools to zoom in on fine details and fabric patterns. And, because there are no surprises at delivery, the potential for onerous and expensive returns is reduced.”

Together, DFS and Vertebrae successfully launched the largest Web-based AR implementation in the world and has driven significant sales growth despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Using 3D and AR-enabled visualizations for more than 10,000 sofas, shoppers can virtually display items in their homes to examine details and assess fit and style, with no application download required.

Since launching early last year, the partnership has delivered significant results and helped the brand “weather temporary store closures due to the pandemic”.

Vince continues: “By outsourcing the management, integration, display and measurement of immersive assets designed for the Web, DFS was able to quickly pivot to showcase 3D and AR, without needing to quickly reconfigure and market an app download.

“DFS has seen 4x more incremental revenue generated per month than originally forecasted on products with 3D and AR, leading to a 22X return on investment. Conversion has jumped 112% and revenue per visit has more than doubled for shoppers who interact with 3D and AR versus those who have not.”

That is some solid data. Vertebrae is also currently in discussions with several other leading brands and retailers in the UK, but remained tight-lipped on who for now as they continue in helping them succeed with their immersive commerce initiatives. 

Interested in jumping on board? Well, the partnership process is a straightforward one. As Vince revealed: “Vertebrae’s partnership model is flexible to accommodate retailers at any stage of their immersive commerce journey.

“With deep eCommerce experience, Vertebrae’s team can help furniture businesses prioritize development – whether starting with a specific category or subset of products that can be used to benchmark performance and provide proof of concept, or converting an entire catalogue.

“Photorealistic 3D assets are the building blocks for effective AR as well as selling tools in their own right, so once the scope of the project is defined, the next step is to determine whether retailers have existing usable 3D images. If so, Vertebrae’s platform enables rapid 3D conversion at scale. Alternatively, a 3D library can be created from scratch.

“Brands can preview the front-end 3D and AR experiences from within the Axis platform and publish with a single click. Built-in analytics enable performance reporting, enabling businesses to quantify the benefits of their immersive initiatives. 

Vertebrae’s Axis platform is unique because it allows the retailer to be involved along every step of the management process, from conception to launch.”

Vertebrae is also working with industry leaders such as Facebook and other social platforms on pilot programs that syndicate AR beyond the eCommerce site into social media and within natural search results.

On Facebook, Vertebrae AR advertising and commerce initiatives have increased ad recall and intent to purchase.

Vertebrae says that the global pandemic has changed retail forever and their technologies can help bridge the gap between online and offline.

“Heading into 2021, online and offline will continue to merge: most shopping journeys will begin online and many will stay there, while showrooms will become experience centres, with less emphasis on comprehensive inventory and more focus on engagement,” Vince said.

“3D and AR can help bridge these worlds in both directions. Digital buyers can virtually bring pieces into their homes and offices for inspection prior to purchase – a crucial capability, given that the inability to physically experience a product is still the top challenge with online shopping, according to Vertebrae’s survey.

“That challenge is especially acute on mobile devices. Despite a surge in mobile commerce, shoppers still struggle with buying on small screens – and nearly 1 in 5 consumers avoid it altogether specifically because they can’t clearly see and compare product details.

“3D and AR also provide an online/offline connection, by guiding shoppers through the consideration phase prior to store visits and providing retailers with valuable data about which items to stock for final inspection and purchase.

“In store outlets and showrooms, AR and 3D can provide realistic, detailed product experiences for items not available for display. Immersive experiences can enhance interactions with store sales specialists, helping hone in on the right item prior to arranging home delivery.”