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3D eCommerce - What is it, Why it Matters, and Production

3D eCommerce uses 3D modeling to create an advanced product viewing experience. Read on to find out exactly what it is, and how to produce 3D models in-house.

What is 3D eCommerce? A Business Guide to 3D Modeling

3D eCommerce deploys 3D modeling for online product visualization, product configuration, and VR / AR to bolster digital marketing and sales. Sometimes also called 3D commerce, 3D modeling commerce, or immersive commerce, it aims to deliver a better online shopping experience. Meanwhile, brands and retailers use it to generate higher customer engagement, better conversion rates, larger average orders, and reduced returns. In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of 3D eCommerce, key terminology, best practices and more. We’ll answer:

  • What’s the difference between 360 spins, 3D photos, and 3D models
  • What is 3D eCommerce, why it matters, and how to produce it
  • How businesses can adopt 3D modeling technology
  • Which benefits do eCommerce 3D models provide
  • How does 3D modeling work in VR vs AR
  • What equipment and software do businesses need for 3D modeling
  • How to use 3D model hosting platforms
  • How to measure 3D eCommerce performance

Read on to learn more, including how to adopt 3D eCommerce technology to develop your business and overall product experience.


Generate 3D model user interface

Terminology: 360s vs 3D photos vs eCommerce 3D models

Let’s not confuse 3D eCommerce with 360 spins, or 3D product photos. To clarify:

  • Single-row 360 spins (also 360s, spins, or 360° packshots) refer to standard, single-row spin photography. A row is the angle elevation, usually at 10°, or another product configuration, e.g. a car with open or closed doors. Single-row spins provide online product visualization only on the horizontal axis. 
  • Multi-row 360 spins (also multi-row spins, 3D spins, or hemispherical / spherical spins) consist of two or more rows of still images. Due to the terminology, 3D spins might be confused with 3D models. However, a 3D spin is only a spin with an additional vertical viewing axis or a product’s configuration. 
  • 3D eCommerce (3D modeling) requires special photogrammetry scanning techniques and software to generate a digital product model. These usually call for at least 36 photos around a product, and shots from two or more rows of elevation. The software composites photos into a digital model for use with 3D product viewers, product configurators, and AR / VR. This is what we mean by 3D ecommerce.

Examples of 3D eCommerce applications

3D modeling in eCommerce has evolved along with a wide range of use cases. Some common examples of today’s applications for 3D modeling include:

  • Online, on-the-fly customization and configuration of highly customizable products
  • Product demos of complex or technical products with exploding views and annotations
  • Presentation of moving parts, unique design features, and interior components
  • Projecting products into a virtual space via AR / VR, for example furniture or machinery
  • Virtually trying on fashion products like footwear and clothing
  • Configurable B2B sales presentations and digital product showrooms
  • Multimedia and video gaming experiences
  • AR Shopping Apps and Metaverse shopping

These applications allow shoppers to browse virtual catalogs, and to see virtual previews of product features. They also provide the ability to run product simulations, and overall create a more informative and immersive product experience.

Online spin image viewer

How does 3D modeling for eCommerce work?

In order to produce 3D eCommerce content, it all begins with 3D modeling. 3D modeling enables us to create an accurate, photorealistic representation of an object, which consumers can view digitally. Getting started calls for special scanning or photography equipment and software to render a 3D model. However, there are three main approaches to 3D modeling:

  • 3D scanning. By using a 3D scanner, it’s possible to bounce light off an object to gather data about its size and shape. This data becomes points and shapes on a mathematical coordinate system to generate a 3D model of the object.
  • Photogrammetry. This technique uses a digital camera to capture multiple angles of an object. Photogrammetry software then stitches photos together into points and shapes on a coordinate system to create a 3D model.
  • 3D design. Here, a graphic designer creates a 3D model from scratch, using special software and working with product descriptions and images.

Businesses host 3D models online with a 3D product viewer, or with VR / AR technology. 3D viewers enable both web and mobile viewing. VR can simulate the physical experience of a product. Meanwhile, AR uses smartphone / tablet cameras and displays to project objects into a virtual space.

Mobile AR 3D product viewer

Photogrammetry in 3D eCommerce

In eCommerce nowadays, and at PhotoRobot, we support our automated photography equipment with the photogrammetry scanning technique. Most recently, we experimented with Apple Object Capture to make a simple 3D model from photographs in under a few minutes.

Other popular solutions today include RealityCapture, Adobe’s Substance 3D Painter, and Blender (a free open source software). You might also be familiar with Alice Vision’s Meshroom. In fact, Meshrom’s open source photogrammetry software has helped advance the software to what we know today. They also provide an apt definition of photogrammetry technology.

“Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs. It infers the geometry of a scene from a set of unordered photographs or videos. Photography is the projection of a 3D scene onto a 2D plane, losing depth information. The goal of photogrammetry is to reverse this process. The dense modeling of the scene is the result yielded by chaining two computer vision-based pipelines: “Structure-from-Motion” (SfM) and “Multi View Stereo” (MVS).”

In other words, photogrammetry involves obtaining reliable information about a physical object via recording, measuring, and interpreting imagery. We then use this information to replicate the object in the form of a digital 3D model.

Transform 3D models into countless assets.

Business benefits of 3D modeling

Using 3D product content in eCommerce provides brands and retailers a wealth of benefits. Among these, some of the most prominent include the following.

  • Global retail B2C e-commerce is projected to grow 1% annually to account for 22% of global sales by 2024. As eCommerce grows, so does the technology driving multimedia marketing and sales, making 3D content ever more vital to compete.
  • Adding the third dimension to product experiences more closely replicates the real-life, in-store shopping experience. 3D models generate greater consumer interaction, drive conversions, and reduce overall product returns. 
  • 3D modeling allows businesses to visually pitch products to clients and investors, even if products aren’t on the market yet. It enables consumers to realistically conceptualize product design, and to run test simulations on products.
  • The adoption of 5G with its accelerated connectivity will enable smoother, high-speed 3D, AR and VR experiences. Advances in these technologies will also mean they become more accessible and affordable for businesses.

Spin viewer options on monitor displaying white shoe.

Augmented reality in 3D eCommerce

The use cases for AR in e-commerce and retail are numerous. Shoppers can now use their mobile phones to virtually try on clothes or footwear. They can project furniture into a virtual space to see how it fits and if it suits their home. Brick-and-mortar stores even use AR to help shoppers compare prices or learn more about products on shelves. 

Further, AR shopping apps make the customer both the content consumer and the content creator. They give users the ability to personally interact with, customize, and personalize products both online and offline. Consumers can customize colors, sizes, styles and designs, however and wherever they wish. 

AR provides an immersive product experience, from rotation and zoom to exploding views, annotations, and animations of moving parts. It can demonstrate complex items, as well as large or heavy products that otherwise would be difficult to transport. Take for example refrigerators or heavy-duty automotive parts. AR can transport items like these directly to consumers, clients or investors to experiment with, and see how they operate.

Emersya 3D configurator for eCommerce

How to start 3D modeling in-house

To begin creating 3D models in-house, special 3D product photography equipment and 3D modeling software is necessary. Usually, this includes a special product photography turntable with an optical glass plate for 3D photography. Many businesses also deploy a robotic camera arm or multi-camera rig to automate camera elevation and achieve consistent image capture.

Devices (like PhotoRobot’s Frame) allow the camera and background to travel completely around the product, even under the glass. This provides shadow-free views from all sides and top-to-bottom that can be used to generate a 3D model. Studios also often combine turntables with the Multi-Cam to capture photos from 2 or more cameras. These dramatically reduce production times, allowing photographers to capture multiple rows of photos simultaneously. 

Software like PhotoRobot’s can then post-process images (automatically), and integrate with photogrammetry software. Photogrammetry algorithms measure, record, and interpret images to produce a photorealistic representation of the product. With software like Apple’s Object Capture, the 3D model is produced in USDZ file format. USDZ 3D models can be viewed in AR Quick Look, or via <model-viewer>.

3D model files can then be embedded on any webpage using a 3D content viewer. Take for example Emersya, an end-to-end 3D & AR experience platform.

3D eCommerce product experience

Cameras, lenses, and lighting for 3D modeling

The initial investment into 3D modeling will begin with an appropriate camera, a suitable lens, lighting, and a rotary turntable. Let’s look at the most popular choices when working with PhotoRobot in-house systems.

  • CamerasConnectible cameras include DSLR or mirrorless Canon camera models. Control software enables remote camera capture, and settings control over one or numerous cameras. Usually, a camera between 20 - 30 megapixels is sufficient for 3D modeling. If using constant lighting, exposure simulation in LiveView is also useful.
  • An appropriate camera lens – For extremely small, complex products like jewelry, your photographer will need a macro lens. However, when shooting many larger products, a lens capable of keeping the product in frame is enough. Often, a zoom lens with 40 - 100mm focal length achieves this.
  • Lighting setups – PhotoRobot systems support two types of lights: FOMEI and Broncolor strobes, or any LED lights with DMX support. Users can command studio light groups, and automate flash or continuous lighting via software controls.

PhotoRobot's Case turntable and workstation

3D modeling turntables, equipment & software

Now, the most important element to cost-effective, in-house 3D modeling will be the additional hardware, the software, and automation. 

  • Motorized 360° turntable – For 360° turntable photography, there are a range of different size rotary turntables. For 3D modeling, often the best choice of turntable is one with an optical glass plate. These allow for photographing both top-views of products, and bottom-views from underneath the glass plate.
  • Backdrop – Some PhotoRobot devices integrate a white diffusion cloth backdrop into the system. These make it easy to photograph products on a white background, and to automate background removal for a transparent background.
  • Robotic camera arm or multi-camera system – Photographers deploy either a Robotic Camera Arm or the Multi-Cam for automated camera elevation and movement. These act as a combo- tripod / stand with an integrated camera head to control cameras in the studio. They enable remote camera capture with high precision and smooth movement along a chosen trajectory. Both work in combination with 360° turntables and software for quick, 3D image capture.
  • Software-driven workstation – A single software-driven workstation computer (MacOS or Windows) gives operators control over all equipment, cameras, lights and production processes.

Software and hosting platforms for 3D modeling

Software like Object Capture and RealityCapture allow businesses to generate a 3D model from photos. Usually, this calls for a multi-row spin consisting of photos from at least 2 or more rows. Uploading these photos into 3D modeling software then renders a file which can be viewed as a 3D model. These can be embedded on webpages, or transformed into product configurators or AR / VR experiences with 3D content hosting platforms.

3D hosting platforms such as Emersya can also use 3D models to generate a range of visual assets, whether 2D or 3D. The higher the quality of the 3D model, the higher the scalability. In fact, sometimes all you need is an individual photoset to produce hundreds of 2D / 3D visuals. The platform enables businesses to represent products in different colors, designs, patterns and formats, nearly eliminating logistical concerns.

For companies with a wide stock of highly customizable products, 3D model hosting platforms can be extremely effective. A capable hosting platform will facilitate easily organized, accessible and deliverable content. It can provide a wealth of customizable, visible assets to deploy on demand, while saving on time, energy and costs.

How to measure your 3D eCommerce performance

Finally, with 3D product content online, it’s important to see how much return on investment you’re achieving, right? Your marketing teams will already deploy a range of tools to track performance. However, there are a few major KPIs to focus on to determine the overall efficiency of your 3D eCommerce strategy.

  • Pre-sales marketing KPIs revolve around website visits, accessed content, and time-on-page. These should lead to a measurable visitor-to-conversion rate, as well as the cost of acquisition. They will all shed insight into how well your 3D content campaigns are performing.
  • Sales KPIs account for sales volume, conversion rates, revenue per sale, average order size, and customer profiles. These along with average customer lifetime value amount to significant data points to analyze marketing efforts.
  • Post-sale KPIs measure areas such as product return rates, technical support costs, and Net Promoter Score. These KPIs provide key data on customer satisfaction and retention. They also serve to better monitor overall business costs in relation to your 3D eCommerce strategy.

Tools to analyze KPI data include those for: web analytics, social media analytics, shopping eCommerce analytics, and AI business intelligence apps.

Want to establish an effective 3D eCommerce strategy?

PhotoRobot is here for all of your 3D ecommerce needs, for businesses large or small. Whether it’s a small webshop or an industrial-scale photography warehouse, our solutions meet a wide range of needs and budgets. Simply reach out to discover if PhotoRobot can assist with your 3D ecommerce planning, strategy and production.