3D Web Viewers – Commodity or Specialization? What Enterprises Need to Know


As 3D and augmented reality experiences continue to expand across the web, implementing 3D models and virtual try-ons have become key parts of many ecommerce strategies. Retailers and brands aim to showcase products in more engaging, interactive ways to connect with digitally-savvy customers. The integration of 3D web viewers into eCommerce platforms allows for a more dynamic shopping experience, potentially increasing conversion rates and customer engagement.

However, there is one critically important piece of the puzzle that unfortunately gets overlooked or underestimated – the 3D web viewer.

Given the number of off-the-shelf 3D viewers available, it’s easy to think that it’s a project IT teams should take on themselves, but in many cases, that’s not correct.

Let’s dive deeper into some of the key considerations when implementing a 3D web viewer for eCommerce purposes.

Section 2 – The Costly Misconception

With the growth in popularity of 3D visuals, it may seem that 3D web viewers have become standardized commodities – that one free viewer option will showcase products just like any other. JavaScript libraries like Three.js and Babylon offer out-of-the-box solutions, and even Google provides a basic Model Viewer, so it’s tempting for development teams to take on viewer implementation themselves.

Unfortunately, while conceptually simple, in practice 3D viewers still require significant specialization – especially for enterprise-grade use cases in the eCommerce sector. Generic viewers pulled from online open-source repositories or code samples often hit severe limitations right from initial customer pilots and POCs. They simply can’t deliver on many common business requirements like customized lighting, camera angles, backgrounds, realistic post-processing effects, and category-specific display configurations crucial for showcasing a wide range of eCommerce products effectively.

Moreover, not all viewers render 3D models equally across diverse products in a catalog. Subtle configuration changes can drastically impact the visualization of materials, textures, and intricate geometries. Items appealing on a neutral background may seem dull or odd in a different environment. Even basic rotations can cause mirroring or metallic items to reflect unwanted artifacts onto surfaces unexpectedly, affecting the shopper’s perception and potentially decreasing the likelihood of a purchase. The result is that seemingly lightweight viewer integration turns into layers upon layers of hacks, wrappers, and workarounds to manually add missing functionality. Instead of a quick implementation, teams face an exponentially growing house of cards requiring constant maintenance for even trivial changes, which can be particularly challenging for eCommerce platforms looking to maintain a large, diverse product catalog.

Section 3 – Understanding the True Complexity

While it’s easy to drop a 3D model into any basic viewer, not all viewers render that model equally. Unlike videos which appear visually identical across players, subtle configuration changes in a 3D viewer can drastically affect visualization, significantly impacting how products are perceived by potential buyers in an eCommerce setting. For example, environment lighting and reflection effects are crucial for displaying glossy or metal materials properly, directly influencing customer decision-making by highlighting product quality and detail. Camera angles make certain products easier or harder to inspect thoroughly, affecting user experience and engagement on eCommerce sites. Higher quality textures and post-processing greatly enhance realism with depth, shadows, and anti-aliasing, contributing to a more compelling presentation of products. Products that look gorgeous on a white background may seem dull or even strange in a different virtual environment, potentially affecting customer perceptions and engagement rates on eCommerce platforms. Something as simple as a minor rotation of the scene may cause mirroring materials to reflect unwanted background colors, distracting from the product’s appeal. Making matters more complicated, ideal configurations can vary enormously across product categories. Jewelry has very different needs than furniture or apparel when it comes to 3D visualization in the context of eCommerce. What works beautifully for a handbag may be totally wrong for displaying a bicycle attractively, underscoring the need for specialized 3D visualization expertise in the eCommerce sector.

Section 4 – Scaling Complexity

Even assuming the visual quality challenge is solved, next comes the complexity of implementation and being able to scale effectively for eCommerce platforms. While a single 3D model configuration might meet initial basic requirements, retailers need to expand across thousands of products eventually. This is where limitations of basic viewers become painfully apparent, hindering the scalability and versatility required by eCommerce sites to effectively showcase a wide range of products.
Without a robust API and advanced control panel, it’s virtually impossible to manage viewer settings efficiently across an extensive catalog. Important functionality like bulk editing, one-click presets, and dynamic attribute-driven configuration becomes mandatory at scale for eCommerce platforms, ensuring that products are displayed optimally with minimal manual intervention. An advanced viewer architecture also ensures smooth performance even on slower devices, a critical consideration for eCommerce sites aiming to provide a seamless shopping experience to a broad audience. Performance limitations become very visible if framerate drops noticeably as more 3D models get added, potentially detracting from user experience and engagement on eCommerce platforms.

Section 5 – Analytics and Optimization

Once 3D models are seamlessly implemented, the next vital step for eCommerce platforms is gathering engagement data. It’s crucial to understand interaction levels clearly and see where further opportunities to optimize may exist. What analytics can a particular viewer provide out-of-the-box? Many don’t track anything beyond basic page views, unfortunately. More insightful stats around detailed interactions, dwell time, clicks, and conversions require custom implementations, essential for eCommerce sites to measure engagement and optimize product presentations for increased conversions. And speaking of conversions, how will success be accurately measured? Integration with marketing automation or CRM systems may be necessary to match engagement with sales and quantify ROI properly for eCommerce strategies. These key questions need careful consideration before viewer implementation, not after the fact. Yet many 3D vendors provide little built-in analytics currently, leaving retailers implementing 3D visuals often blind, unable to quantify true ROI in the context of their eCommerce strategies.

Section 6 – Deployment Tradeoffs

Finally, several options exist for integrating 3D viewers into eCommerce platforms, each with its own pros and cons:
  • Iframes provide an easy drop-in approach by embedding the viewer as standalone content. However, this can limit styling and analytics customization, potentially impacting the integration with the overall eCommerce site design and data collection capabilities.
  • Custom code integration offers maximum flexibility for modifications, crucial for tailoring the viewer to specific eCommerce needs, but requires additional effort to maintain as viewer platforms progress.
  • Modern web component techniques balance simplicity and control, offering an appealing option for eCommerce sites looking to streamline viewer integration while maintaining flexibility, but may not work on some older devices without extra code support, potentially limiting reach among certain customer segments.
The right approach depends heavily on business goals, product visualization needs, analytics requirements, and available development skills in the eCommerce context. Overly simplistic assumptions can risk project timelines and costs, underscoring the importance of considering the unique demands of eCommerce when selecting a 3D viewer integration strategy.

Section 7 – Key Takeaways

When implementing immersive 3D visuals for an eCommerce strategy, avoid common mistakes by keeping these recommendations in mind:
  • Partner with 3D experts on appropriate viewer selection – generic options won’t meet the specific needs of eCommerce platforms, potentially affecting user experience and engagement.
  • Prioritize realistic materials, lighting, and rendering tailored to each product category, enhancing product appeal and potentially boosting conversion rates on eCommerce sites.
  • Ensure bulk configuration control and preview for efficient catalog management at scale, a critical consideration for eCommerce platforms with extensive product ranges.
  • Determine analytics needs upfront – conversions, attribution, optimization opportunities – essential for measuring success and optimizing 3D visuals for increased engagement and sales in the eCommerce context.
  • Evaluate iframe vs JavaScript component deployments, factoring in quality, control, and maintenance requirements specific to eCommerce platforms, ensuring that the selected approach aligns with business goals and technical capabilities.
The complexity of enterprise-grade 3D viewers may not be intuitive at first glance. But thoughtful planning is essential to fully leverage 3D visualization in eCommerce, avoiding critical pitfalls and maximizing the impact on customer engagement and sales. Don’t let assumptions create obstacles – expert guidance tailored to your specific business goals and use cases in the eCommerce sector can pave a smooth road to 3D implementation success. There are many considerations, but the visualization impact and revenue potential in eCommerce make solving this puzzle well worth the effort.