A New Dimension: How 3D Technology is Reshaping Retail
It’s said that imagination can be hampered by two-dimensional thinking. Add a third dimension, the saying goes, and all sorts of new possibilities open up. And so it is with the promise of one of the most inventive technologies available to retailers today: 3D.
Driven by new cameras about the size of a AA battery yet powerful enough to create a depth of an entire store's interior in seconds, 3D technology will soon change the way merchants sell, manage and profit from their businesses. Here’s why retailers should be excited about 3D technology:
- It's versatile: 3D cameras can instantly recognize objects, environments and even people, making it hugely valuable for data analytics, trend forecasting, store operations and many other retail applications.
- It's creative: When combined with related software, 3D can provide new forms of virtual retail experiences for consumers that compel, inform and inspire.
- It’s affordable: Structured light-based 3D technology is less expensive than other forms of depth calculating devices. In most cases it can be integrated for about the cost of a good 2D camera.
Through the promise of 3D, new opportunities are emerging in virtually every area of retail, from stockrooms to checkout; merchandising to promotions; online to physical. The following are just a few of the many uses.
Shelf-mounted 3D cameras are transforming in-store research through more accurate traffic counts and analysis of foot traffic patterns. They allow merchants to research customer behavior in the aisle, at the shelf, and at displays and counters. Inventory management benefits from 3D as well. For example, global companies are developing inventory robots that move through the store autonomously, taking counts and assisting with shelf replenishment.
Checkout is one of the most promising areas for 3D technology. 3D item recognition is actually faster and more accurate than barcode scanning because it can recognize shapes. It’s uniquely practical for nonpackaged items. In cafeterias, for example, 3D scanners can recognize and price salads, bakery and dinner plates, and can handle multiple items at once. Studies show that 3D scanning is up to 10 times faster than barcode scanning, with items rung up in just one second.
Payments can be completed quickly as well using 3D facial recognition. Personal privacy is ensured because the customer’s face is matched to the payment account via encrypted algorithm, in the same way as passwords, swipe cards or other biometrics. Facial recognition is already the norm at checkouts in China, thanks in part to Alibaba’s Alipay system, and is spreading around the world due to its many secure advantages for both customers and retailers.
3D technology is opening up exciting new ways to convey information and increase customer interest. The ability to recognize customer movement and body language is sparking immersive experiences for retailers in everything from clothing and fashion to electronics and automobile showrooms. Perch is a great example of an interactive retail display that uses embedded Internet of Things (IoT) technology to unite digital content with physical products. This display’s highly personalized product messaging drives five times to 10 times more customer engagement while lifting product sales by 30 percent to 80 percent. Delivering an average return on investment from 300 percent to 2,200 percent, Perch creates a magical experience for its customers. Recursive Media, another innovator, stages room-sized presentations driven by customer movement.
Physical body scans, another use for 3D, allows consumers to try on clothing virtually, without entering a dressing room. It allows shoppers to evaluate their fit and new look instantly, even when shopping from home. Statistics show that 50 percent of all returns are due to improper fit, making 3D scans an enticing solution for reducing product returns.
In scores of segments, from convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to department stores and even banks, people want new experiences, personalized attention, and fast, accurate service. 3D technology delivers on all counts — a new dimension that's helping to remake modern retailing.
David Chen is co-founder and director of engineering at Orbbec 3D Technology International, Inc., a manufacturer of 3D cameras.