How Technology Behind Try Before You Buy is Evolving with 3D & AR Visualization

The evolution of consumer and business purchasing behavior is continually shaped by technological advancements. In this era, where online shopping has become increasingly prevalent, businesses are exploring innovative ways to enhance the buying process and reduce uncertainty. A key solution that has gained prominence in recent years is the concept of “try before you buy,” leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as 3D visualization, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). 

Try before you buy is a way for customers to become sure of their purchases before parting with cash – which increases conversions for the sellers and reduces returns of physical products that contribute to waste. In a recent panel at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), VNTANA CEO and Co-Founder Ashley Crowder discussed the advancements and possibilities of technology in try before you buy. Joining her were representatives from brands including Lowe’s, Perfect Corp, and Meta to showcase how they’re offering try before you buy. 

How expectations of customers and retailers is changing 

With the increase in online shopping and technology offering new buying experiences, customer expectations have changed in recent years. As Ashley says, customers now expect “a spatial buying experience” that’s more immersive and helps customers, both B2B and B2C, make more confident and informed decisions.   Retailers are investing in 3D commerce, VR and AR on both the customer and internal side. You can now go on many commerce websites and see 3D models of what you’re about to purchase or technology that lets you virtually try products before buying them. And this spans across multiple industries, not just direct to consumer and retail but B2B businesses as well such as medical device, manufacturing equipment, and more. 

Industries leading the way in try before you buy 

Beauty and fashion have been leading the way in this, with brands offering ways to try on makeup products, jewelry, clothing, and shoe wear without customers even leaving their homes. This lets customers make more suitable purchases for themselves that are less likely to be returned. Rather than buying a lipstick that you realize doesn’t suit you and throwing it away, you can upload a photo of yourself and virtually try the lipstick on.   Perfect Corp offers AI and AR technologies to help retailers offer virtual try-on capabilities for businesses in the beauty, eyewear, hair, and jewelry spaces – even offering HIPPA-compliant skin diagnostic tools to help customers find suitable products.  But this goes beyond the beauty industry. The furniture and home goods industry is increasingly using 3D technology to help customers visualize products in their actual homes rather than relying on a simple 2D picture online.   Lowe’s Innovation Labs is at the forefront of this, investing in features like View in Your Space and Lowe’s Open Builder where you can explore a catalog of 3D and AR visualization products including décor, hardware, kitchens and bathrooms, and more. Lowe’s Infinite Kitchen Touch goes one step further and uses VR and haptics to help customers see themselves in their dream kitchen, and experience both visual and tactile details of materials and appliances.   As well as improving the end customer experience, retailers are using try before you buy technology across the entire value chain to increase speed to market and reduce the amount of samples made that usually end up in the landfill.  For example, rather than ordering physical samples of products from manufacturers, retailers can use 3D modeling to create virtual samples – which significantly cuts down the time-to-market. It also reduces the business’ carbon footprint by eliminating waste and the cost of design and manufacturing.  

The common challenges in working with 3D 

3D modeling and visualization is a huge part of try before you buy technology, and more businesses are embracing it. However, it’s not without challenges.   The main problem is that 3D design results in large files which makes storing, transferring, and rendering the files tricky and time-consuming.    When it comes to publishing 3D models on eCommerce websites or importing into head mounted displays like Apple’s Vision Pro, Magic Leap or Meta’s Quest 3, file type and size requirements aren’t universal. Retailers require different 3D file formats, such as glTF/GLB, FBX, OBJ, STEP, USD/USDZ, and more, for uploading 3D models. For example, Lowe’s requires a USD file that’s less than three megabytes, and Meta requires a GLB file that’s less than ten megabytes. Amazon and Google also have their own separate requirements.  This could result in many hours of additional work for 3D teams that are already overwhelmed with requests, but solutions like VNTANA’s Intelligent Optimization automatically converts and optimizes 3D models to meet the specifications of any end platform, while still maintaining image quality. With no technical knowledge required, this solution removes the barriers involved in offering 3D images of products for virtually any use case so businesses can really get the value from their investment in 3D by leveraging it across multiple use cases.  At CES, Ashley demonstrated how this works in practice through client case studies.  

Merrell  

Merrell, an outdoor clothing and footwear brand, has been using 3D from design and manufacturing all the way through to sales and marketing. As a result, they have seen a cost saving of 81% per shoe and an increased speed to market by a month.   The process for Merrell is that after receiving a CAD file from their manufacturers, they color it and add textures, and VNTANA helps them distribute it. VNTANA automatically converts the high poly 3D designs for manufacturing into web and AR ready assets that looks exactly the same. They are able to create digital showrooms in Unity, which take buyers through a virtual store. This is used when selling to retailers before they even have to manufacture any physical samples. They also get a 3D and AR web viewer to embed on their eCommerce website.   VNTANA can also publish to both Google and Amazon, allowing Merrell to create an omnichannel 3D experience to better engage their customers across all channels. 

Google 

VNTANA is also partnered with Google, meaning that 3D images can be published to Google Search. While this is only in the U.S. so far, Google plans to expand globally this year. So far, they have experienced a 6% higher click-through rate when compared to 2D images.    

Amazon 

VNTANA also has the first API access to publish 3D images to Amazon storefronts. In 2023, Amazon announced that they were deprecating 360 videos and moving to 3D. So far, we’ve seen 2X improvement in purchases with View in Your Room and Try-On. 

How VNTANA’s 3D configurators work with custom designs 

Our 3D configurators let retailers design their own products made to order. One of our clients who uses 3D modeling on made-to-order products, uses our software to design their own configured price quote (CPQ) that’s connected to their back-end data.  VNTANA’s platform can connect with company PLMs and ERP systems so when manufacturers design products in 3D, it automatically attaches a price and order number, ready for customers to buy.   This was a huge challenge for retailers offering custom and made-to-order products, especially when paired with the typical challenges of working with 3D assets. Our platform stitches these elements together in an easy-to-use platform that allows you to take full advantage of 3D technology on your websites. 

More use cases for AR and VR 

Christa Wittenberg, VP of Global Retail Sales & Channel Marketing from Meta, also joined the panel to demonstrate Meta’s Ray-Ban smart glasses. These glasses are fixed with an ultra-wide 12 MP camera and a five-mic system that lets the wearer take high-quality photos and videos, which can be live-streamed to Facebook and Instagram. The glasses operate with voice command, which means you won’t need to pull out your smartphone to make calls or take pictures.  
The aim of these glasses will be to slowly phase out the necessity of having smartphones all the time. In 2025, it’s expected that these glasses will come with a display called a “viewfinder” for reviewing incoming messages, scanning QR codes, translating text, and more.  What does this mean for the future of try before you buy? AR glasses paired with solutions like VNTANA and Perfect Corp means that both B2B and B2C consumers will have new ways to try products and samples virtually. Perfect Corp is currently looking at ways they can make their platform compatible with different platforms and technology, such as Meta’s products and Google’s, to offer new ways of experiencing products before buying.   

The future of try before you buy 

The future of try before you buy looks promising, with different software solutions and hardware products partnering together to utilize 3D modeling, AR, and VR. The customer buying experience, both in B2B and B2C, has already changed a great deal over the past few years, in part driven by circumstances around the pandemic and also the availability of new technologies such as the lastest Apple Vision Pro mixed reality headset.  VNTANA’s platform aims to make these technologies more accessible for businesses to offer new and immersive elements to the buying experience – no matter the platform. As more businesses and retailers get on board with this new technology, it will soon become an expectation of a typical buying process.