Product Configurators: Definition, Best Practices & Top Examples

Product Configurators: What You Need to Know to Provide 3D eCommerce Experiences

Product configurators offer a solution to changing online shopper expectations. As consumer purchasing preferences progressively skew towards eCommerce, buyers crave interactive shopping experiences that increase purchase confidence. With the average rate of returns for online purchases peaking at 20.8% in 2022, data supports that consumers may visualize a product as enticing enough to purchase but increasingly find it does not meet their expectations.

To help effectively drive online sales, reduce product returns, and increase general brand approval, today’s consumers require online shopping experiences that can give them a real sense of how a product will appear once it arrives. Fortunately, online retailers can make this happen with the correct eCommerce product configurator. Here’s what to know about online product configurators in 2023.

What Is a Product Configurator?

A product configurator is a software tool that allows customers to customize and configure a product to their specific needs and preferences. It typically includes options for selecting colors, patterns, sizes, and other features and provides a 3D visualization of the customized product.

What Are the Main Features of a Product Configurator?

Several key features can distinguish product configurators. Some of the most outstanding features to consider when considering solutions are:

  1. Customization options
  2. 3D visualization
  3. Real-time pricing
  4. Compatibility checks
  5. Integration capability
  6. Mobile responsiveness
  7. Multi-language support

3D product configurator software products may differ in their inclusion of these features and the degree to which they provide them. Consider your needs in each of these areas when comparing solutions.

1. Customization Options

A 3D product configurator allows customers to select from various options to customize a product to their specific needs and preferences. For example, a simple configurator may allow a customer to select a shirt in different colors. A more robust custom configurator may allow customers to select from multiple choice options, such as different colors for shoe laces, tongues, and sock liners, different widths and sizes, and flat or engraved soles.

2. 3D Visualization

A product configurator often includes a 3D visualization feature. This allows customers to see a realistic representation of the customized product. Customers may have options such as zooming in and out, panning from side to side, viewing an object from the top or bottom, or rotating it to see it from different angles.

3. Real-Time Pricing

3D configurators typically calculate the cost of the customized product in real-time as the customer makes selections. For example, clothing items of different sizes may be priced differently. The configurator notes the customer’s selection and checks product databases to update the price in real time for the shopper.

4. Compatibility Checks

3D configurators may include built-in compatibility checks to ensure that the customer’s selections work together and function properly. For example, suppose some versions of an item do not come in a particular color or size, which is available for other versions. In that case, the configurator can recognize this and notify the customer. A configurator can perform similar checks for items requiring specific parts, hardware requirements, etc.

5. Integration with Other Systems

A 3D product configurator may integrate with other systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), or product lifecycle management (PLM) software. This can help to manage and streamline the ordering and production process. It also can be important for scaling your 3D workflow. For example, suppose you have a large number of items in your inventory that need to be available for shoppers to view in 3D. In that case, it is preferable to have a 3D configurator that integrates with your content management system (CMS) for mass file uploading.

6. Mobile Responsive

A product configurator should be mobile-responsive to allow customers to customize and purchase products on the go. A mobile-responsive product configurator solution should suit all smartphone platforms and your customers’ screen sizes. It also requires file size management features, allowing mobile customers to quickly view items on smartphone devices without long lags.

7. Multi-Language Support

3D configurators may support multiple language options. This enables you to reach different target demographics within a single country or support global customers in other countries. Some configurators may offer more language options than others.

What Are the Advantages of Using Product Configuration?

Analysts estimate 266.7 million digital buyers in the United States and some 2.14 billion worldwide. Consumer expectations for the online shopping experience continue to advance. Today’s shoppers anticipate an interactive experience that allows them to familiarize themselves with a product before purchasing.

Accurate visualization of a product can be made possible with eCommerce product configurators that offer customizations to fit customers’ needs and expectations. However, online configurators can also work in favor of an eCommerce business. Consider the advantages of product configuration in eCommerce, such as reduced return rates and competitor differentiation.

1. Increased Conversion Rate and Average Order Value

An abandoned cart is one of the most dreaded aspects of owning an eCommerce storefront. Without the right visual tools, customers may add items to their carts but not be confident to complete the purchase. Merchants who utilize eCommerce product configurators provide a more accurate product representation, ultimately enticing customers to convert.

Just as fewer abandoned carts lead to a higher conversion rate, providing more detailed product visuals through a product configurator may also increase a company’s average order value (AOV) over time. Rather than avoid purchasing additional products due to uncertainties about size or color, a customer can become more confident in shopping across multiple product categories with strong product visuals that subsequently drive up AOV.

2. Reduced Product Return Rates

Companies that provide poor visualizations of a product run a higher risk of not meeting customer expectations once it arrives. A poor first impression often results in returns, which equals lost revenue for the eCommerce business. A high return rate is detrimental to the health of an eCommerce operation. With eCommerce product configurators, consumers can gain a more accurate sense of the product, decreasing the chances they’re unhappy with the items delivered.

3. Differentiate from Online Competitors

In the world of eCommerce, standing out from the competition is everything. If two companies offer the same or similar products, but with contrasting shopping experiences, you can expect the consumer to shop with the site that provides a more confident, reliable shopping experience. This is why using eCommerce product configurator tools is one of the heaviest differentiators in online shopping.

Using product configuration with numerous options takes the shopping experience to an entirely new level by providing a realistic view of a product — as the customer would receive it — rather than one or two still images. These tools can also add a sense of authority to an eCommerce site, demonstrating further purchase confidence for the products sold.

4. Provide a Superior Customer Experience

Regardless of whether a customer completes a purchase, a lack of product visualization and realistic examples can leave a poor taste in a customer’s mouth. The inability to picture a product on their body or in their home can create a barrier to the purchase, inevitably creating an overall negative opinion of the eCommerce platform.

With online configurators, eCommerce shops can create a more interactive and enjoyable shopping experience, providing higher purchasing confidence and increasing satisfaction. With increased customer satisfaction comes a higher chance of returning shoppers becoming brand advocates and recommending the site to friends and family members.

5. Improved Customer Insights

Using customer data helps eCommerce businesses make better business decisions that range from properly scheduling inventory restocking to determining pricing specials. Using a website product configurator allows shop owners to also pull data regarding how customers prefer to view products and which options they gravitate towards. These highly-relevant customer insights can help forecast inventory needs and reduce revenue loss caused by underperforming products.

Types of Product Configurators Used in eCommerce

With the above benefits in mind, you may wonder what the best product configurators are or how to tie such technology to your eCommerce operation for both large and small businesses. There are three primary types of product configurators used in eCommerce, each with features and capabilities to match the specific needs of your business. Here are the top eCommerce product configurators available.

Static 2D Product Configurators

The most commonly used online product configurator in the eCommerce space is static 2D. A 2D eCommerce product configurator provides a two-dimensional flat and static visualization of a given product. The term static means that the product images do not move or offer consumers a 360-degree, three-dimensional view.

However, static 2D product configurators offer various options for more tailored product visualization. Customizable options often integrated with static 2D product configurators include color, pattern, materials, and textures. While the image won’t have 360-degree mobility, multiple angles of a product can still be captured and integrated with various configurator options to provide a comprehensive product view.

For static 2D product configurator examples, let’s use the online furniture dealer Burrow. Burrow’s online platform allows consumers to select a product they wish to view, offering various furniture pieces ranging from couches to tables. Once on the product page, a static 2D product visual is provided. The consumer can decide among various configurator options, including fabric color and leg finish material, to visualize the specific piece they want.

Interactive 3D Product Configurators

Interactive 3D product configurators are a step further from static 2D product configurators that use an interactive design to provide customers with a 360-degree, three-dimensional product view. An interactive 3D product configurator provides numerous customizable options to help create a personalized vision of a product that customers can view from multiple angles at a time.

As complex product technology has advanced in eCommerce, merchants increasingly turn to interactive 3D product configurators for a more immersive shopping experience. With the ability to alternate between various color, finish, texture, and shape configurator options, interactive 3D configurators allow the customized product to be navigated and viewed from every angle.

Vans, a footwear industry veteran with a robust online marketplace, offers an interactive 3D product configurator for customers looking for customized apparel. Van’s interactive 3D product configurator allows users to browse numerous color, pattern, and material configurator options, from sneakers to backpacks, to create a customized product. Customers can drag and pull the product from any angle or distance when customizing a product.

Augmented Reality (AR) Product Configurators

As we discuss these various advancements in eCommerce technology, one to absolutely not forget is augmented reality (AR). Augmented reality product configurators have recently grown in popularity dramatically — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when consumers had difficulty leaving their homes to visualize and interact with a product in person.

AR product configurations allow consumers to digitally experience a 360-degree, three-dimensional view of an eCommerce product, such as outdoor gear or furniture, in their real-world setting. Unlike virtual reality (VR), which provides users with an artificial environment, AR product configurators allow users to place a virtual item in their living room or bedroom.

For example, mega eCommerce furniture dealer Wayfair uses an augmented reality product configurator to help customers visualize furniture pieces in their homes virtually. With Wayfair’s mobile app, users can scan the dimensions of their room and browse various future pieces, such as chairs and lamps, that can be virtually placed in the surrounding environment. Consumers can compare potential products with existing furniture items for a more confident purchase decision.

Five Best Practices for Implementing 3D Product Configuration Software

Though a minimal product visualization experience can be a massive downfall for an eCommerce business, poorly implemented online product configurators can be even more frustrating. If your business wants to include interactive 3D product configurations in your eCommerce strategy, there are a few best practices to ensure a smooth transition and positive results.

1. Create, Manage & Optimize Your 3D Files

A valuable eCommerce strategy that uses 3D product configurations must also incorporate a well-developed 3D file creation, management, and optimization strategy. To help streamline this process, eCommerce businesses should consider using a robust content management system (CMS) that allows them to complete these processes from one place.

VNTANA is the industry-first purpose-built 3D CMS that helps streamline 3D and AR management efforts, handling all the details from design, and product specifications, to product marketing and operational aspects. For 3D development and optimization purposes, VNTANA’s software automatically optimizes and converts 3D product models to meet web, social media, and mobile standards easily.

For ongoing 3D and AR file management purposes, VNTANA also offers expansive team capabilities that accommodate remote eCommerce operations. Our premium 3D web viewer can be accessed and collaborated on by remote teams from wherever to create compelling 3D web content for eCommerce websites.

2. Optimize Your 3D Product Configurator for Website Speed

When it comes to website loading speeds, a lagging 3D web viewer can quickly encourage potential customers to click out of the product page and away from the eCommerce site. eCommerce businesses need a solution to properly optimize 3D files for quick load times and lag-free visualization to ensure a fast-loading 3D product configurator.

With VNTANA’s patented optimization algorithms, 3D files are automatically reduced by 99% while maintaining a high visual quality complex product that requires no manual touch-ups. With up to 10X faster load speeds, customers can effortlessly browse website product configurators for an enjoyable shopping experience that supports high-performing conversion rates.

3. Create Immersive Experiences With Augmented Reality

Once 3D assessments have been developed, optimized, and properly managed, eCommerce companies can take their strategy to the next level with augmented reality (AR). With the right 3D CMS, you can easily deploy 3D content across a website’s 3D product configurator and into consumers’ surrounding environment via AR.

VNTANA’s comprehensive platform allows eCommerce professionals to easily embed 3D product models into their websites. Once optimized for the eCommerce site, built-in augmented reality features allow users to pull the 3D product model from their mobile device and place it in their surrounding environment to visualize the product true to size.

4. Allow for Customization and Personalization Options for Customers

By allowing customers to customize and personalize products, they will feel more invested in their purchase and have a better overall experience on your website.

5. Use Analytics To Track and Measure the Success of Your 3D Product Configurator

By tracking key metrics such as conversion rates, product views, and user engagement, you can identify areas for improvement and optimize the performance of your 3D product configurator to drive more sales and improve the user experience.

Five Examples of Brands That Use Product Configurators

Product configurator software has found a growing number of applications in various industries, from industrial manufacture, computer-aided design, and fashion to computer hardware and construction equipment. Here are five leading examples from brands that use product configurators, illustrating the versatility and value of this powerful marketing and sales tool:

1. Siemens

Siemens, which manufactures equipment for healthcare and industrial automation applications, provides a product configurator software tool that lets customers configure components such as motors, converters, and drive systems. This lets customers view products from over 100 product lines in billions of possible configurations. Customers can order products online after configuring them.

2. Autodesk

Autodesk makes computer-aided design software and other products that serve the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. They have utilized several product configurator software apps to serve their client base. Until 2020, they offered subscriptions to Autodesk Configurator 360, a cloud-based product configuration service that provided engineers, sales representatives, and end customers with web and mobile 3D configuration. Autodesk customers could take product design models created in computer-aided design software and upload them to the cloud for conversion into a 3D configuration format. Autodesk clients could select which features their own customers were able to configure and could use brand configurators to display their company logo with products being viewed in 3D.

Since 2020, Autodesk has upgraded from Configurator 360 to product configuration using the Forge Design API, a more robust product configuration software solution designed to streamline the process of using configurators to generate pricing and quotes. This upgrade reflects a response to the growing demand for product configuration by manufacturing companies and their sales teams.

3. Adidas

Sportswear brand Adidas used product configuration software to allow online shoppers to customize designs before purchasing. For example, Adidas footwear shoppers can click on an item to go to a product configurator showing a shoe from multiple angles, including side, top, bottom, and front and rear views. Customers can then click on options to see the item in multiple colors and sizes. An accompanying size guide helps shoppers find the right size for them. Some items offer additional customization options, such as designs and text. Once satisfied with their selection, shoppers can click a link to add it to their shopping cart.

4. HP Inc.

Information technology company HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett-Packard) uses product configurator technology to assist its sales representatives and customers in displaying and viewing items such as computers, printers, and other devices. For instance, merchants looking for point-of-sale (POS) solutions can configure devices based on considerations such as whether they need a stationary system, one which can be detached and moved around a retail space, or one which can be used by employees traveling to multiple locations. Once this is determined, customers can make an additional selection, such as which region the user will use the device in, what type of processor it will run on, color, the inclusion of fingerprint and NFC readers, barcode scanner integration, storage capacity, operating system, wireless WAN connectivity, stand design, connectivity bases, peripherals, cables, and security requirements.

5. Caterpillar

Construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar provides a product configurator tool that lets clients customize installations for their needs. Customers can create configuration files based on their preferences, assisted by templates of applicable parameters for components such as engines, pumps, and transmissions. To ensure standardized communication and diagnostics between vehicle components, customers can add industry-specific J1939 parameters and Industrial Protocols. The tool can be used online or downloaded for offline use.

Choose the Best Product Configurator for Your Business

Has this in-depth dive into eCommerce product configurators inspired you to get started? With VNTANA’s 3D eCommerce platform, companies can create, manage, and optimize 3D files from one platform that offers many powerful tools. Now is the time to upload 3D product models for an interactive customer experience shoppers will tell their friends and family about.

Schedule a demo today to discover what VNTANA can do for your eCommerce strategy.