TechBytes with Ben Houston, Founder and CTO at Threekit
Hi Ben, it was a productive quarter for most tech companies until COVID-19 broke loose. Tell us about your company’s attitude in dealing with the situation.
When COVID-19 started getting serious in early March, there was massive fear in the overall retail market, and everything seemed to freeze for about two weeks. Because shopping behavior changed so quickly, it was important for retail technology companies like ourselves to adjust to this shift. As a startup, we were able to adapt quickly.
We moved up our new product launch (Configurable Augmented Reality) and offered some of our services for free so that retailers could have access to the tools they needed to successfully sell online.
We’re excited to see that many retailers and brands are rising to the occasion and are continuing to innovate on the ways that they are selling online. Many have already taken advantage of our free product offering and our website traffic has been higher than ever before. This is a key growth point for many companies, so we’re excited to provide that support.
One AR VR application or Product feature you are really proud of owning at Threekit–
Definitely our newest product, Configurable AR. No one else currently offers this type of solution in the eCommerce space. It makes shopping more engaging because everything can be customized to each person’s tastes. Someone can even add custom engravings or personal photos to their product if they wanted to.
Previously, this level of customization and personalization in an AR product would require a team of developers and designers to generate thousands of 3D specifications and files. Our software generates these automatically.
We saw some of the innovations in Retail, martech and adtech in 2019. What cue did you take from these tech M&As to build a roadmap at Threekit for 2020-2024?
With huge developments in the Augmented Reality (AR) space recently, it’s helped AR break into mainstream adoption. Niantic recently acquired 6D.ai and Shopify recently launched an AR tool.
Apple has continued to highlight AR and has rapidly pushed it forward, such as with the release of Quicklook AR and its much-improved capabilities, including occlusions and try-on features.
We’ve seen similar trends in retail specifically, especially in the fashion/apparel industry. Retailers are chasing unique ways to display their products and make shopping online a more personalized and engaging experience. After adding AR shopping capabilities, Rebecca Minkoff found customers became 65% more likely to make a purchase after viewing a product in AR.
The quick mainstream adoption of AR was one of the reasons why we decided to launch our configurable AR tool sooner than expected. We know that this is an area that retailers and brands are prioritizing for their online selling strategy, so we’re going to continue to develop new AR capabilities.
How much have Marketing practices evolved through the internet, dotcom and now social media and AI era?
With new developments in technology and especially now with AI, brands and retailers can create more intimate, personalized shopping experiences. It’s much easier to determine the ROI of marketing tools like AR or 3D imagery. For example, you can track how long someone engages with an AR tool and whether or not this impacts their add-to-cart or checkout probability. The ROI can differ based on the product and how you present it to your customers. This can be integrated into your AI-driven A/B testing regimes and other methods of improving your sales performance in an automated fashion.
How do you think AR VR helps to sell content online? Tell us about your 3D Configurable AR VR platform. Every marketer is chasing the golden combo of Personalization and Privacy. Do you think it’s worth chasing personalization using AR VR products?
AR VR provides a more personalized and intimate shopping experience. Shoppers can see products in the context of their own home. With configurable AR, shoppers are able to see every combination of a product, rather than having to depend on a single 3D model.
We support personalization in our web-based no-app-install configuration AR experiences. You can add custom engraving, your own signature, a photo, or even more. You could try out a picture frame with the photo you want to display via AR using your phone.
In addition to AR VR tools, we’re seeing a rampant adoption of AI, Blockchain, and RPA in the Voice and related tech businesses. What approach do you take in digitally transforming your ecommerce operations with a combination of AR VR and AI ML and RPA techniques? Have they borne you satisfactory results?
We can create manufacturable output files directly from our system and integrate those with your automated manufacturing. We can do this for 3D printing, dye-sublimation, customized apparel, and even printing on funeral urns. This helps automate the fulfillment process and reduces the chance of error. The customers can also shop with confidence knowing that what they saw online is what they are going to receive in the mail.
What are your predictions for “Customer Loyalty Technologies” for 2020-2024?
I predict that the increased awareness of previous purchases will lead to ‘smarter suggestions’ in the future. New developments in AI have made it possible to take previous purchase data to make more informed product recommendations that complement existing purchases, especially in furniture and apparel.
This motivates extreme loyalty because stores can offer their best recommendations based on design sense. Retailers can use technology to mimic the experience of working with an interior decorator or stylist. These ‘AI stylists” can curate or suggest looks that the shopper may not have previously considered.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Business Leader?
It’s important to embrace it and seek out opportunities to apply AI solutions as we have only begun to break the surface.
A big one for Threekit is smarter recommendations. We want it to be much more than just the standard Amazon-like frequency recommendations. We want to go deeper and start to understand decor and styling and use those to make unique personalized bundle purchase recommendations.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.
It would be interesting to read Jeff Bezo’s take on AR/VR in retail. Amazon adopted AR capabilities a few years ago but not much has changed since then. As a leader in online shopping, they are able to transform the way people buy and sell online.
Ben Houston is a CTO at Threekit.
ThreeKit is a powerful 3D product configuration and visualization platform that arms brands with the tools to create interactive product experiences. Founded by Ben Houston, a 15-year veteran in Hollywood Visual FX software and a team of 3D pioneers, ThreeKit combines innovation, expertise, and experience to deliver high-quality solutions that boost online customer engagement and conversions. The company is headquartered in Chicago with a technology innovation center in Ottawa.