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#NRf2020: Wayfair’s journey to 3D imagery

Wayfair has been pioneering the use of 3D imagery across its 14-million-strong product catalogue in a bid to save money, while also innovating with augmented reality and virtual reality.

Speaking at NRF 2020, Jane Rawnsley, head of imagery creative at Wayfair, described how as an online-only retailer customers need greater reassurance because they can’t touch and feel a product.

“Home product is browsed, not searched,” she said. “Customers need to see many items by style and price point to make a decision.”

Rawnsley said rich lifestyle imagery builds a story of the product and helps the customer decide how the product might fit in their home and how it complements their style. “It builds confidence to make a purchase decision.”

Cheaper that photo studios

But with such a large number of SKUs, photographing all 14 million was proving very costly for the retailer and not at all scalable, so the retailer began exploring the development of 3D imagery. Wayfair now starts with a 3D digital asset, such as an armchair, which can be virtually upholstered with different fabrics and placed into different digitally-designed environments.

“We’re able to image that product at multiple different angles and 3D is 10-times cheaper,” she said, explaining how 3D images never need assembling, they never turn up broken or dirty and they’re always “photo ready, unlike in a design studio”.

While the 3D images are also cheaper to create, Wayfair also sees a 20-30% increase in conversion rate from 3D-rendered images. “The 3D images are getting so good, I can’t see the difference anymore," she said. "The only images you get credit for in 3D are the ones that look fake, everyone just assumes that the good ones are the ones that come out of the photo studio.”

Once an image is created in 3D, this also allows Wayfair to use this image in its augmented reality (AR) customer app – View In Room – which allows shoppers to see via their smartphone what items might look like in their own homes. Shoppers using View In Room are twice as likely to add a product to their basket, while conversion rate increases three-fold.

3D – the new frontier

But 3D imagery is still very new and much of the work Wayfair has been doing internally and with its partner Adobe has been pioneering in retail. In the beginning it was hard to find 3D modellers, designers, artists and technologists, so the retailer created a three-month training programme for computer graphics graduates to train them in the skills required for the job. The retailer has also upskilled its existing photo studio talent, which Rawnsley said has improved the quality of the entire team.

Wayfair’s R&D Lab Wayfair Next also works closely with Facebook, Google and Magic Leap to keep on top of AR trends, while also being part of a group to lobby for standards to create a single file format for 3D assets across the industry.

Wayfair also launched an online blog, called 3D University, where it uploads guides and lessons in 3D design. “It was interesting to watch executives grapple with a decision to release this information,” said Rawnsley, who explained that the retailer realised in order to create rich images to improve customer experience, it needs more people to be skilled enough to create the content.

The Wayfair Next team are also working on new AR applications, including a visual search and measurement tool which enables a customer to photograph a room to get an accurate measurement of the space so they can shop products that fit the room. The retailer is also dipping its toes into virtual reality, so customers can see products in their homes in a much richer environment, but additional hardware required to experience VR is yet to be widely available to consumers.