The pandemic was a reset for e-commerce as consumers turned to online shopping in droves, including demographics that were previously reluctant to buy online. However, online sales growth came with a steep drawback. U.S. customers spent a staggering $565 billion online in 2020, but approximately $102 billion of the merchandise was returned.
Online returns more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, even as digital sales soared. Therefore, retailers have a double-edged challenge: Find a way to maintain strong online sales growth and lower the number of items that are returned to maximize profits. 3D technology like body scanning cameras, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can help retailers solve both of those challenges.
Customers Want 3D Tech to Improve Their Retail Experience
It’s not surprising that clothing and shoes are the most frequently returned items, making up 56 percent of all returns according to a Barclaycard survey. With a global marketplace and manufacturer size variances, retailers are at risk. In the survey, 57 percent of retailers say returns have a negative effect on operations, and 20 percent report that they’ve had to increase prices to cover the cost.
An investment in 3D technology can help retailers stem the tide of returns. With new body scanning technology, consumers can gather their precise measurements so they can order items online with confidence. This is a tool that's already being implemented inside retail locations like H&M, where body scanning helps shoppers find a perfect-fitting pair of jeans.
3D body scanning can be taken a step further, allowing customers to create personalized avatars that will virtually try on clothing and give the shopper a preview of how a piece will both fit and look.
You’ll already find 3D AR and VR tools helping shoppers see how items like furniture, rugs and home décor would look in their spaces, and those shopping for clothing online want access to the same solutions.
Online shoppers are asking for the option to view products in 3D or via AR/VR, according to a Harris Poll survey, which found that 60 percent said they’d be more likely to buy a product shown in 3D or AR. Majorities of 66 percent said 3D and AR visuals increase their buying confidence and make them more interested in shopping on a website.
Retailers That Adopt 3D Tech Now Can Gain a Competitive Edge
As 2021 unfolds, retailers are keeping an eye on consumer behavior, wondering if widespread vaccine distribution will inspire shoppers to return to previous habits. Many analysts expect new online shopping patterns to persist even after the virus is fully under control. That’s why it makes sense to improve the customer experience for online shoppers in 2021 and beyond with 3D technology.
There’s evidence that investing in 3D technologies can deliver positive returns. The Harris Poll survey found that 42 percent of shoppers are willing to pay more if they can see an item using 3D and AR. Shoppers are also willing to pay up to 20 percent more for a personalized product. Factor in a drop in returns, and the technology’s potential to pay for itself becomes clear.
Keep in mind that while the use of these technologies is growing, it’s not yet widespread. That means future-focused retailers have an opportunity to get an advantage. Retail got a reset last year, and the post-pandemic recovery is currently underway. For forward-thinking retailers, it might come in the form of investing in the right 3D technology that can reduce returns and grow online sales.
David Chen is co-founder and director of engineering at Orbbec 3D Technology International, Inc., a manufacturer of 3D cameras.