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3D configurator profitability: expectations vs. reality.


It seems like a 3D configurator for your ecommerce platform is a great idea … right?

chaco 3D configurator

The argument is that interactive product renderings that offer a 360-degree spin capability will enhance the online shopping experience, making your custom products program more profitable.

But there’s more to this story.

The expectation is that your return on investment is a given because you’re giving consumers what they want.

The realities are that implementing this costly technology can lead to:

• Overinvestment in features that don’t address core consumer needs.
• Poor user experience due to lag times in 3D image rendering, particularly on mobile.
• Underinvestment in back-end processes that affect the overall consumer experience.

At the heart of the matter is this core question: Are you addressing what consumers care about most?

The risk lies in missing the forest for the trees, focusing on the excitement around 3D technology without ensuring a positive end-to-end consumer experience.

And ultimately leaving your custom products program less profitable in the long run.

You expect 3D configurators to give you an edge with consumers interested in customization because they will like these features.

No doubt about it, the ability to look at a product from every conceivable angle is really cool.

As you’ll see below, our research shows that consumers do like this 360-spin feature. It’s interesting. Visually engaging. Fun.

But the most critical business question for your brand is not whether a consumer likes an online shopping feature.

These questions are far more important:

1. How much influence does the feature have on the purchase decision?
2. What are the strongest influences on the purchase decision?
3. Are we making the most strategic investment in light of this perspective?

The reality is that consumers want to quickly see all sides of the product more than they want a 3D configurator.

Before we get into the research confirming this, let’s set the stage with a simple analogy to help explain why this might be the case.

Imagine you own two restaurant locations. 

Each has the same selection of dishes and comparable sales to date. You’re adding some exciting new dishes, so both locations need new table menus. 

You have an idea you’re sure will delight guests: beautiful holographic menus designed to make every mouth-watering dish come alive on the page.

Savvy business person you are, you decide to run an experiment before going all-in:

• For both locations, you are introducing the same new dishes.
• For one location, you spend thousands of dollars on eye-dazzling holographic menus.
• For the other, you spend far less on a simple but quality insert for your regular color menus.

Three months later, you check in with the hope that sales rose enough over the quarter at the first location to justify making the same eye popping menu upgrade investment again for the second location.

Instead, to your dismay, sales for both locations have begun to fall

In an effort to figure out what happened, you survey your guests and ask about the menus. To your surprise, they tell you that they love the new menus but the old menus are good enough and that they love the new dishes.

So what’s going on here? Upon further investigation, you discover:

• Sales didn’t rise as expected because you were already giving your guests what they needed. High-quality photos of the food were good enough to entice them.
Sales started to fall due to new, unforeseen back-of-the-house problems related to the rollout of the new dishes. (More on order management below.)
• Margins were lower at the second location due to the higher menu costs.

In this analogy, your strategy didn’t take the end-to-end customer experience into account. You over-invested in something your guests like while under-investing in other areas that have a greater effect on the guest experience.

Your ecommerce channel and overall product customization program are far more complex, of course, with plenty more opportunities to lose consumers and profit margins. 

3 elements that provide a positive end-to-end consumer experience.

Let’s take a closer look at three elements that provide a positive end-to-end consumer experience in ecommerce and custom products: product photography, image rendering, and order management.

1. Product photography: Being able to see all sides of a product is more important to consumers than 360-degree spin.

We recently commissioned consumer research to find out how important certain factors were in the online product customization experience.

Our panel of nearly 1,000 respondents consisted of:

• U.S. adults 18 or older.
• Evenly split between male and female.
• Multiple income levels (from below $25,000 to above $200,000).

On average, consumers told us that they like being able to spin a product 360-degrees. We anticipated this. After all, how many people would consider 3D configuration a negative?

However, in the case of every single product group we asked about, what mattered significantly more to consumers was the ability to see all sides of the product.

building my product survey resultsFeature importance in Homeware customization (e.g. personalized mugs, dishes, etc.)

We saw similar results for all seven applicable product categories:

• Coolers, Bottles, and Hydration Items
• Travel Luggage, Purses, Bags, Totes, or Other Bags
• Footwear
• Sporting Goods Equipment
• Children & Baby Products
• Linens & Bedding
• Homeware

(Clothing was the 8th group, but we didn’t ask about 360-degree spin. The industry standard is a simple 2D front-and-back design customization experience.)

Let’s keep going. 

Besides the ability to see a product from all sides, what other features might matter more to consumers than 3D configurator capabilities?

2. Image rendering: Fast and reliable rendering regardless of the consumer’s device or connectivity is paramount. 

This is where we take a detour from the restaurant analogy. Unlike you, the restaurant owner doesn’t have to worry that table menus might not work properly.

To have a positive experience with 3D configurators, the consumer:

• Must have a device with average to high performance.
• Has to use a browser that is compatible with 3D display technology.
• Must have a high-speed internet connection.

When these conditions are not met, product renderings are slow, spin is laggy, and the image quality may not be photorealistic.

It’s important to consider the potential for lost revenues due to these user experience problems when investing in any 3D configurator. It may be best to start with a 2D platform before making the leap to 3D or to build in a 2D backup process as a failsafe.

Of course, we’ve only addressed the user’s experience ordering the product. What about what happens next?

3. Order management: Efficient order fulfillment is a better predictor of whether consumers will be repeat customers.

Going back to our restaurant analogy for a moment, here’s the key question: Fancy menus are great, but what’s happening in the kitchen?

It turns out that as much as your guests love the fancy menus and the new items, it’s been taking far longer than it should for their order to arrive.

All your back-of-the-house processes are built around preparing your standard menu items. So when you offered new options, it threw the kitchen into chaos.

We’ve seen a similar scenario play out with product customization programs that are overly focused on the front-end user experience.

Profit margins are lost to order management problems, unanticipated fulfillment delays, and ultimately a poor overall customer experience.

The best software solution balances front-end processes that are key to customer engagement with the back-end processes that are key to customer satisfaction.

In other words, a fancy menu alone can’t satisfy your “guests.” 

You need a solution that makes good on the promises that your fancy menu makes.

Product customization programs fail when they focus on specific features at the expense of the overall consumer experience.

This happens all the time to product customization programs. 

But JTB Custom can set you up for success. At a highly competitive price point, we can help you:

• Focus your investment on the features that address core consumer needs.
• Minimize the risk of technical issues that can cause a poor user experience.
• Address the challenges affecting the overall consumer experience.

What’s more, we can help you avoid the future costs common to building out 3D configurator platforms.

Beyond the initial implementation, every product you add to your “menu” represents another costly 3D design and development project, further cutting into your profit margin.

We work with you to build your product customization program with sustainable growth in mind. 

That’s where our software solution built for ROI comes in.

Silhouette™ addresses what matters most: your product customization program’s profitability.

When you’re looking to make a significant investment in launching or expanding a product customization program, your primary objective is not to entertain the consumer.

Your objective is to make the customization experience smooth, productive, and satisfying so that they’ll keep coming back – all while keeping your costs low and your program profitable.

Product customizers (the consumers eager to personalize your products) want two things:

• “Show me every side of the product so I get a sense of it. 3D imagery is fun, but really, 2D images of all the perspectives that matter are just fine.”

• “Then, fulfill my order as quickly as possible. If can’t do this efficiently, I’ll go to another brand that can.”


So you need a platform that satisfies both needs. That’s what Silhouette does. It’s an equal parts front-end and back-end solution:

• A beautiful online configurator that gives the consumer every angle of the product, 


• A powerful, automated order management tool built for the unique challenges of custom order processing.

More importantly, along with Silhouette, you get us.

JTB Custom is the leading product customization provider because we do what most of our competitors don’t (or can’t): We apply our decades of custom production and made-to-order experience to help you make your customization program work, end-to-end.

We offer a crawl-walk-run-fly approach to advancing product customization programs, helping you work toward your goals whatever your level of readiness. 


You can go out and invest in a fantastic 3D configurator platform that won’t address half the obstacles you need it to, setting you up for failure …

Or you can work with us to build a customization program the right way, set up for long-term success.

Let’s start that conversation. Talk to an expert today.