“Every brand should consider having their products 3D modelled and optimised for browser and AR viewing”
On the future of Spatial Commerce — and why it matters now
January 15, 2024
Who are you?
— I’m co-founder and CEO of Aino.ar, a Finland-based technology startup, developing the first 3D designer and marketplace that ’wows’. Think of a much nicer and more relaxing way to design and shop anything interior-related for your home, using the browser on whatever device you prefer to use. You can design the entire space; furniture, floors, wall materials, lighting, and so forth. All products look exactly like they do in reality, you can configure them — change materials or sizes — and easily find and explore options and fit everything at home using the built-in Augmented Reality (AR). So, no more spending evenings and weekends driving around city outskirts and visiting a variety of large stores, walking up and down those endless isles, only to find out that the thing you were after is out of stock. Or if you do happen to buy something, get it home, unpack, assemble and then realise that it actually does not fit the space you intended it to. No more of that either.
You operate within so-called Spatial Commerce, a buzzword that still might be quite new to many. Can you explain more?
— It can be simply understood as commerce in a three-dimensional (3D) environment. This environment can be purely virtual, or a combination of physical and virtual. Think of the former as an online space like a 3D showroom you can explore on your mobile or laptop. The latter can combine aspects of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), like fitting virtual furniture in your living room with AR, or using VR goggles, to visualise a completely new design of the space around you. We are talking about technologies that diffuse the lines between physical and virtual, in order to provide shoppers with a more delightful experience.
— Now, it does feel we have come past the peak of the hype cycle (of Spatial Commerce, Ed’s note) and are more exploring the actual, value-adding things within it — what is actually real and what is a tech-gimmick? The hype started a couple of years ago under the metaverse label and was by no means cooled down when Facebook renamed itself Meta in October 2021. The hype has now shifted to early exploration and testing. Brands are starting to see the value it can bring, whether it’s for enriching the custom experience, boosting sales in new ways, or doing more creative and effective ways of marketing.
And on your platform, what do you offer to brands?
— It provides them with a full suite of features and functionalities around 3D design and spatial commerce; Configurable 3D showrooms, 3D viewers for products, product bundling, product configuration, AR, and marketing material. These are all to enrich their current way of selling and marketing and can exist in parallel with them, if a customer wants to.
— In a later stage, the platform can be used by interior designers, empowering them to swiftly make designs for their customers with buyable products. This helps them match a given budget and be more efficient in their projects. Eventually, the platform can also be used by the real estate industry; when you buy a new place, you can first configure your exact apartment to the smallest detail, but then also have it completely furnished – all with the same platform.
— There have been 3D solutions out there for more than a decade but unlike anything else seen in 3D before, our platform is real-time — meaning no lag. The quality is so high that one can use it for marketing and can make a purchase decision based on it. This is thanks to our self-built 3D engine which produces quality that becomes an alternative to product photography. Suddenly you have a tool that can produce unlimited photo and video marketing content.
— I’ll give you an example: imagine how many product photos you would need to take and how much would it cost if you wanted to have an image of, say, a dining table in 4 sizes, 6 table top shapes, 6 leg alternatives, 3 wood options, and 3 finishes. That is 1296 variants. Now add more detailed configurations like top profiles and thickness, leg tapering and indentation, and some more creative paint options. Then take photos in rooms with different floor and wall materials, maybe together with some other pieces. And then you are a brand with a few hundred, or a few thousand products in total and would want to do the same for each. This is simply impossible to do with photos and would also not make any sense. With 3D you can.
How will Spatial Commerce develop onwards?
— Now we are still in the very early stages of it all. It is not until now that for the first time in history, these things actually are possible, largely thanks to the advancements on the technology side. New enabling and enriching technologies, both hardware and software, are introduced constantly; AI and Generative AI, more accurate cameras and lidars on our mobile devices, VR headsets in different form factors, improved 3D modelling, rendering, and scanning like Gaussian Splatting (a method to render a 3D scene in real-time, Ed’s note), new concepts of retail blending physical and digital in more creative ways, new concepts around physical and digital ownership, streamlined production processes, and completely new business models. There will be a lot happening and at an increasing pace, those jumping in early will have a strong advantage over the competition. Imagine that it is only a bit more than a year ago that ChatGPT and LLMs were introduced to the masses, and now a large majority of startups are already using them to improve their products or processes, says Kiviluoto.
What else is on your mind now?
— For brands in design and retail, 3D and Spatial Commerce more generally, can have a revolutionary impact. It can completely change the way products and spaces are designed, produced, marketed, and bought. It opens new, massive opportunities, at a scale these industries have not experienced before.
— Each and every brand should start to consider having their products 3D modelled and optimised for browser and AR viewing. Now when modelling technologies have improved radically in the last years, the cost to model a product is already at a very reasonable level and can already be done even based on photos and video. Some years ago, we saw a lot of success with brands offering their CAD models for download on their website, so that designers and architects could embed them into their designs. Next, it will be the browser- and AR-optimised 3D models. Already with one model, one can start to take advantage of the opportunities, for instance through AR and 3D/AR ads. So, all in all, there’s no reason not to get started!