While virtual showrooms were an emerging technology (even a novelty) before the pandemic, they saw an overnight surge in demand as the design industry boomed just as physical purchases ceased. For Cosmo Kramer, founder of Boston-area virtual showroom and 3D product rendering company Bitreel, the frenzy came to a head when the term “metaverse” entered the public lexicon. As the prospect of a new online world gained visibility and marketing attention, her company phone suddenly started ringing. Now, he says, the excitement has started to subside.
“There was almost a boiling point when everyone was talking about virtual-this and metaverse-that, and we were trying to keep a cool head and not get too excited about all the hype,” says Kramer. “And I would say for sure the hype came out of the boil.”
It had to happen eventually. Many of the virtual experiences that captivated consumers at home during the pandemic have lost their luster in recent months as in-person activities have resumed and shoppers face rising inflation. This new climate raises questions about the future of virtual services. After all, why would design companies need online spaces when the real world is up and running again?
For companies like Bitreel, however, loss of hype has not meant loss of new business. In fact, Kramer thinks the industry is better positioned than ever for growth, thanks in large part to the fireproof the pandemic has offered designers, buyers and businesses alike.
Courtesy of Bitreel
“It’s planted a seed that this way of selling is actually possible – and in some cases it’s even beneficial to do things this way,” says Kramer. “That doesn’t mean completely replacing the way things have always been done, rather it’s augmenting.”
When Kramer founded Bitreel in 2019, the mission was to make the process of buying and selling “considered goods” (meaning the products a consumer researches, such as furniture and home decor). ) something that could be done remotely in order to save buyers time. spent commuting between stores. Today, that goal has largely remained the same. Bitreel allows brands to create either a virtual version of an existing physical store or an entirely new virtual space, and the company’s customer base spans a variety of retailers and home and design manufacturers, including the giant of retail Ethan Allen. Bitreel charges customers a monthly fee per space. For a small brand, the expense could be a few thousand dollars per month; a big brand with a larger digital footprint might end up spending up to $5,000 for a store fully decked out with 3D digital recreations of the entire product catalog.
Over the past 18 months, Kramer has seen more manufacturers and retailers add virtual components to their physical spaces rather than opting for a full virtual package. One client, for example, recently closed a physical store and 30,000 square foot warehouse, then opened a 1,200 square foot showroom with a touchscreen that allows shoppers to visit his virtual store, where any the selection of the company is instantly searchable. . By reducing the massive square footage in favor of smaller store concepts with virtual elements, some Bitreel customers have reduced their operating costs by 30-40%. Others have taken the hybrid in-person and virtual approach even further, installing in-store accessible touchscreens in mobile vans and providing drive-through services to customers.
For many companies, the use of virtual applications has not only reduced internal costs, but also boosted sales. Marxent, a Tampa, Fla.-based virtual services company specializing in AR apps like product configurators and virtual room planners, charges monthly fees of between $5,000 and $10,000 for retail customers, including Ashley Furniture Industries, La-Z-Boy, MillerKnoll, Design Within Reach and others. Founder and CEO Beck Besecker says that after implementing virtual technology, Marxent customers saw product sales skyrocket: Using 3D room planners increased average order value by 60% , for example, and sectional configurators increased average order value by 120%. Beyond increasing revenue from existing customers, the technology’s proven effectiveness in driving sales has better positioned the company for growth and signing new customers.
Courtesy of 1 Click Design
“In 2014 and 2015, when people were just getting started with augmented reality, it seemed like a good idea, but no one had any real data,” Besecker says. “Now we know that if you have augmented reality on a product page, your customers are two or three times more likely to convert. We have real data on how consumers engage and the quality of leads they become. »
The virtual reality shopping boom can also be attributed to 3D technology on standard web browsers, which became available about five years ago. Before that, users had to download a special program to run 3D applications on their computer and have the hardware to support it. Today, the technology is advanced enough to allow regular consumers to access 3D shopping features online. Besecker compares the phenomenon to buying airline tickets – even when it became possible to do so online, it still took consumers a few years to actually use the now ubiquitous shopping method. To that end, the pandemic has only accelerated the industry’s shift to virtual services.
Even major players in the realm of physical showrooms are engaging in virtual space strategies. Jack Kashani is perhaps the greatest example of this transition: a trade show and showroom veteran, he founded and ran the World Market Center in Las Vegas for more than a decade. After leaving the project in 2011, he has since become president of virtual showroom provider 1 Click Design, which creates 360-degree virtual tours of digital showrooms where suppliers and buyers can meet and browse. or buy products. The company’s services start at $10,000, with pricing based on space size, number and type of products, and varying project requirements.
Courtesy of Marxent
Kashani’s vision for 1 Click Design centers on some of the pain points he has observed in the trade show industry, namely the fact that after the necessary real estate costs of acquiring and maintaining an in-person showroom, it is costly to create an environment that effectively showcases and updates a brand’s product information. As well as emphasizing the creative freedom to design a custom showroom – the company’s portfolio includes everything from realistic-looking gallery spaces and metropolitan vignettes to fantastical displays of fountain-esque faucets and hardware – Kashani touts the ease and accessibility of on-site virtual shopping spaces – specific showrooms.
“[With virtual showrooms,] you open the door for a lot of different businesses and buyers to see things the right way. You can always show them pictures or you can show them things the right way,” Kashani says. He cites the success of a recent project: In a virtual showroom created for Los Angeles interior designer Ryan Saghian, 1 Click Design added an email notification feature when users enter the showroom, interact with products and complete orders. As Kashani puts it, Saghian’s only concern post-launch was that his inbox was so flooded that he had to disable the feature.
His biggest problem, in other words, was a big problem. “That was his problem,” Kashani says. “They love it and they want more.”
Homepage Image: Designer Ryan Saghian’s Virtual Showroom by 1 Click Design | Courtesy of 1 Click Design