The e-commerce industry spends a lot of time and energy trying to keep the public interested in its wares and traditionally this has involved spending cash on photography: taking nice pictures of your products has typically been the best way to keep users scrolling to your page on the likes of Amazon or Shopify. But photos may seem old-fashioned soon, as companies invest in more “interactive” strategies to grab users’ interest.
The startup CGTrader is a good example. The company, which recently raised $US9.5 ($12) million in a Series B funding round, is part of a blossoming industry that sees augmented reality and computer-generated imagery as a way to enhance online marketing. CGTrader reproduces images of household products and appliances for e-commerce vendors, with one key difference between theirs and old-fashioned photos: the images they produce aren’t actually real. Or at least not in the traditional sense.
Take a look at the picture of a modern house interior below — which was produced entirely via CGTrader’s premier “ARsenal” enterprise platform.
Yes, call it the deepfake-ification of product visuals. You’ve probably noticed more and more online retailers reproducing images like the one above (most notably, IKEA recently revealed that a majority of the pictures in its catalogue are actually CGI). Indeed, in recent years, firms have rushed to invest in marketing tools that can encourage new kinds of user engagement, while also driving down corporate costs by outsourcing human labour to computer-generated production (though there is some debate about how cost-effective these tools always are).
In the case of CGTrader, the images it produces are 3D, so that users can inspect the products from 360 degrees. Products can also be viewed in so-called “lifestyle scenes” (computer-generated house interiors like the one above) so that users can see the products in realistic settings — with the option to customise or shift them as desired. The company also maintains a large database of “stock” 3D image designs that can be integrated into a company’s marketing strategies.
Perhaps most impressive is CGTrader’s claims about creating an AR experience for consumers. The way that works is this: Vendors send CGTrader pictures of their products, which the firm then uses to create 3D photorealistic designs of said products. These designs can then be integrated into mobile and tablet-based AR experiences, wherein consumers can visualise whether the products would look good in their home or not:
And this gets pretty weird! Check out the video below of a bottle of wine sitting on a kitchen table that is definitely not actually there. Then just imagine where this technology may be in a couple of years:
CGTrader was founded in 2011 by former 3D designer Marius Kalytis (who now serves as the firm’s Chief Operating Officer) and by longtime entrepreneur Dalia Lasaite. The startup has seen increased financial interest over the last several years — with significant funding rounds involving large venture capital firms. It’s also experienced a swelling customer base, including the likes of Nike, Microsoft, Shopify, Crate&Barrel, and other large companies.
Lasaite summed up her company’s appeal like this:
“3D models are not only widely used in professional 3D industries, but have become a more convenient and cost-effective way of generating amazing product visuals for e-commerce as well. With our ARsenal enterprise platform, it is up to ten times cheaper to produce photorealistic 3D visuals that are indistinguishable from photographs. Unlike photos, 3D models can also be used to create not just static images but highly interactive AR experiences when users can see how products look and fit in their home. Traditional photography is quickly becoming obsolete in e-commerce.”
Covid-19 accelerated the e-commerce industry’s reliance on CGI and AR for marketing, as traditional media campaigns were hampered by health restrictions. It’s been predicted that such trends will continue to gain prominence in the coming years. It’s surely an exciting new step for marketing, though it also gives you an idea of where we’re headed with the whole “uncanny valley” effect: We’ll soon be living in an online world where you won’t be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t — whether it’s Tom Cruise golfing or a rattan ottoman you just scrolled past.