Reviving the High Street with 3D digital twin technology

James Morris-Manuel

The High Street was already facing significant challenges before 2020… and then COVID-19 hit. With numerous nationwide and local lockdowns throughout the year, non-essential retail stores were forced to close and are yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Consumer confidence has also been deeply affected. According to research by Matterport, crowded stores and fear of getting sick are two of the top factors influencing consumers’ return to physical shops.

But before anyone declares the High Street a thing of the past, merchants should be aware of consumers’ deep nostalgia for walking around stores and browsing product displays. In fact, research shows that 69 per cent of consumers surveyed by Matterport miss this experience. After all, shops provide an engaging connection that brings products to life in ways that e-commerce websites simply cannot - something which has been greatly missed during the pandemic.

Enter the digital twin, a 3D immersive experience where shoppers can virtually visit a fully to-scale store, engage and interact with a brand and its products, and access the more visceral parts of shopping that they have longed for during lockdown. Now readily available and creatable in just a few clicks, even with a mobile device, digital twins are no longer the prohibitively expensive reserve of high-end real estate - and may be key to bringing consumers back to the high street.

Using 3D scanning technology, merchants simply scan a physical environment to create a photorealistic model of their entire premises in minutes, which is capable of delivering and capturing data, as well as accurately representing the space. Consumers can virtually visit, browse and shop in their favourite stores. Forward-thinking merchants can also promote innovative offerings that help them stay relevant in an increasingly digitised landscape.

Retailers around the world like Paperchase and Nike Milan are already reaping the benefits of 3D digital twins to provide consumers with immersive experiences of their favourite stores, which they can explore freely and safely, all from the comfort of their own couch. Consumers can interact with the space, take advantage of offers and promotions, and even shop, all through the digital twin store. And with Matterport research showing that 63 per cent of consumers consider a 3D shopping experience a more exciting prospect than traditional online shopping, this is clearly a trend to take note of.

But there are other benefits, too. 3D digital twins are an ideal way for merchants to effectively manage in-store equipment, inventory, POS displays, and product selection and placement, enabling them to create a consistent brand experience that can be quickly deployed across multiple store locations and sites. Using digital twins, merchants can plan, implement, and manage floor layouts and merchandising more efficiently than ever before, and share these across branches in a matter of minutes. This means that physical shops can deliver consistent brand experiences for consumers wherever they are, at scale.

By enabling merchants to better manage their facilities and offerings, digital twin technology can be regarded as a key component in future-proofing the in-store retail experience. Additionally, 3D models can prove valuable tools for mapping out safe reopening and ongoing staff familiarisation and training tools. They also offer an innovative storefront, which consumers have been crying out for, enabling merchants to stay one step ahead of changing trends. Successful merchants will be those who harness technology to create what consumers consider “the best parts of a retail experience”.

It is easy to think that technology innovation in the retail sector could prove detrimental to brick-and-mortar stores. But that doesn’t need to be the case. 3D virtual stores highlight how e-commerce and brick-and-mortar shopping can complement rather than supplant one another, helping to revive the High Street and adding numerous benefits for merchants and consumers alike in the long term. Digital twins represent a compelling connection between physical spaces and e-commerce, where consumers interact with the stores they know and love and where merchants offer new products and experiences in exciting and interesting ways.

And for retailers looking to reassure crowd- and -illness shy consumers that they can shop with confidence? Digital twins are dimensionally accurate, so enable merchants to map safe distancing routes, sanitisation areas, and even train staff remotely on new processes, so consumers feel reassured their favourite brands are looking out for their well-being as lockdown starts to lift.

Interested in hearing more about companies using technology to drive change in the retail industry? Download our free eBook, "Exploring the Future of Retail in a Virtual World,” and learn how 3D digital twins can transform your business.

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