Why 3D Modeling Is The Future of Shopping Online

3D Imaging Boosts Customer Engagement & Sales

By Mason Sheffield, Director, Lowe’s Innovation Labs

Part One: Blog Series on 3D Imaging in Retail

The number one thing that turns an online shopper into a buyer is beautiful product photography. Shoppers rank the ability to see a product higher than product details, descriptions and even reviews when making up their minds about a purchase. Rich visuals also lead customers to click on more social messages, search results and ads according to a study conducted by MDG Advertising.

While traditional product photography is key to creating a compelling shopping experience, it also comes with some tremendous drawbacks. People shopping for their homes, in particular, may have troubles determining the color or texture of products from photos due to lighting differences, such as showing white items on black backgrounds. It can also be a challenge figuring out how a product will fit in their space. Customers often want to view products from all angles, like seeing the inside of a wardrobe or the mounting details of a light fixture. Traditional product photography often falls short in addressing these challenges and can become a great expense to create all the images needed.

If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, a 3D Model is Worth a Million

At Lowe’s Innovation Labs, we believe 3D-enabled experiences not only solve these common challenges but provide customers with the closest thing to experiencing a product in the store. 3D models capture the luster, texture, color and every angle of a product with vivid clarity. It is for this reason, we have spent the last several years building a 3D studio capable of transforming Lowe’s physical product catalog into a 3D content library with the goal of taking Lowe’s 3D. Today, we have thousands of 3D models in our product library and are exploring many ways of how we can use these to improve our customer’s shopping experience.

Think about the last 3D movie you saw or game you played. Remember the green ridges and sheen of the army soldiers in Toy Story? The glow of the midnight world in Avatar? The dragon flames nipping at your face in Skyrim. 3D technology has advanced to create lifelike visuals capable of transporting people to new worlds and experiences. There is no reason we can’t do the same for shopping.

Take these cabinet door knobs below for example. Not as exciting as a new sofa or patio set, but perfect examples of the power of 3D for even the smallest of objects. Both products are attractive, but the photos don’t necessarily reflect their attributes. Looking at the knob in the 2D photo, it’s difficult to determine if the metal has a matte or glossy finish or how it would be mounted. And, in my opinion, the glints of blue and yellow make the product seem dull rather than shiny as intended. The 3D model just below it provides an entirely different experience for a similar product. By moving it around, the sheen of the metal and the shine of the stones are apparent, and it’s clear how the post would screw to the drawer. The accurate color and finish of the 3D product is more engaging and true-to-life.

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Delighting Customers With 3D Interactions

3D models also enable powerful new mobile and mixed reality experiences. With features such as Lowe’s “View in My Space,” available on the Lowe’s mobile application, customers can virtually experience a product in their home. Augmented reality allows the customer to walk around the true scale high-quality 3d model and view it from every angle to be sure it fits their home.

3D models can also enable immersive experiences, like designing a holographic kitchen. Lowe’s Innovation Labs created the Lowe’s Hologram Experience, a mixed reality design experience within the store powered by the Microsoft HoloLens headset. Using simple gestures to interact with their environment, customers selected from an array of design options and Lowe's products, including cabinetry, hardware, countertops, and appliances to reimagine a kitchen.  Without 3D models, these new shopping experiences simply would not be possible.

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Lowe's Hologram Kitchen Design Experience

Creating Stronger Sales Conversions

3D imaging also has a very positive business impact. Our initial 3D pilots demonstrated between a 10-50% conversion lift in sales on select products when 3D content is available. Industry studies conducted by LG have also found that the use of 3D ads results in 5-14% higher click-through rates. Sketchfab, a 3D platform company, has seen similar outcomes, noting that 3D banners can lead to 10-35% greater click throughs to websites.


3D Model: Wyndham Collection Sheffield Espresso Undermount Double Sink Bathroom Vanity with Natural Marble Top 

Better Quality, Lower Costs

While also improving the quality of product visuals, embracing 3D can also dramatically lower costs. Lowe’s Innovation Labs has built the technology and workflows capable of producing 3D product images for 1/10th of the cost of traditional 2D product photography. My next blog will focus on how we cracked the nut of creating high-quality, low-cost 3D images for thousands of products.

In the not so distant past, a retailer’s success was due to a primary factor--location. Today, technology is also becoming a crucial factor for a retailer’s success. Digital experiences have expanded beyond e-commerce and impact almost all shopping experiences and successful retailers will be those who can provide a compelling in-store and digital experience, seamlessly. A majority of customers (88%) begin shopping online before they even step in the store, and 60% use mobile phones to look at products while they are in the store--what they see and experience will drive foot traffic as well as sales. At Lowe’s Innovation Labs, we believe the retailers who will capture the most attention in the future will be the leaders in adopting 3D.


3D Model: Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-in Copper Porcelain Enamel Charcoal Grill