When eBay and Amazon were founded in 1995, e-commerce pioneers feared that images of products would never offer the same experience as handling a product on a rack. Viewing a pixelated shirt on screen wasn’t as rich as the experience of keeping it in a physical store.
Ecommerce has generally overcome this challenge, but there are still products that are more difficult to present online. Often times these products are personalized, custom, or semi-custom. For these elements, the ultimate solution can be virtual photography, three-dimensional models and configurators.
Too many options
“We have three physical stores. One in New York. One in Washington, DC One in New Haven, Connecticut. Either way, we have custom options that customers can order from bespoke clothing to shirts, ”said Isaac Metlitsky, senior manager, web and digital at J. Press, during a live interview for Practical Ecommerce’s CommerceCo on Aug. April. 2021. Marc Uible, Vice President Marketing at Threekit, who helps companies customize products in 3D, augmented reality and virtual photography, also attended the event.
One category of products offered by J. Press is made-to-order shirts. The shirts have a set of standard collars – button, lace, splay. They come in standard sizes. There are two cuff options and three pocket styles available – and around 70 fabric options.
Therefore, the made-to-order shirt is available in 1,260 configurations without sizes.
Determine how a company would manage 1,000+ product variants from a manufacturing and inventory perspective, and wonder how you would present these options to an online buyer.
“Before we started this project with Threekit, we didn’t even try to do it online because it was something that … had to be done in the store, where the customer felt the fabrics, checked the options and I got a better idea of how it looks, ”said Metlitsky.
He continued, “But you have the same problem in the store [as online]. They don’t know exactly what the end result will be. “
The challenge is that even standing in a posh shirt shop where a fabric swatch book is held against a sample white shirt with an extended collar still requires imagination on the part of the buyer.
These shirts are also made to order. In the physical store, the 1,260 variants are not even in stock in one size. There is still a separation between what the customer orders and what they see.
“Ultimately, being able to present [the shirts] Online for a customer shopping online or even in-store so they can actually see what the end result looks like is a great accomplishment, “Metlitsky said, adding that it is not uncommon for sales reps at J. Press to a use the tablet with the shirt configurator as a tool for consumers in the store.
Crate & barrel
Custom shirts are not alone in this challenge. Furniture made to order is also a problem.
“I recently bought a section couch from Crate & Barrel,” said Threekits Uible, adding that all of the sections on the Crate & Barrel website were virtual photography, similar to the J. Press shirt configurator.
“So I’m in the store. I love the cut. Then the seller comes by with a fabric sample. There are 50 or 60 fabrics that we put against the couch. That doesn’t give a very good idea of what it’s going to look like, ”said Threekits Uible.
In both examples, J. Press and Crate & Barrel, the online configurator provides a better representation of the end product than an in-store experience.
Perhaps the takeaway is that in-store and online shopping experiences are different, but one thing isn’t necessarily better.
Rather, the pioneers at eBay and Amazon overlooked the fact that online and in-store experiences are part of a larger process. We now know they can work together.
There is space for pure e-commerce activities, boutiques for stores only and omnichannel sellers.