CES 2024: Tech and Retail Experts Herald a New Era of Spatial Commerce’

In conjunction with the frenzy over AI, multiple speakers at CES 2024 have been talking about the new era of 3D shopping or what one expert called spatial commerce.”

This rising trend goes hand in hand with another hot topic at CES — that of digital twinning,” which is the creation of virtual versions of people, products, environments, and even whole cities or worlds. 

In a retail technology panel session on January 10 titled Try Before You Buy,” Ross Neumann, Head of Partnerships at Lowe’s, said that the combination of physical and digital retail has created a third kind of retail” — and it is in this hybrid arena where spatial commerce” is gaining traction. 

Spatial commerce can work in many ways, but the most obvious is creating 3D visualizations of products, such as a smartphone rendering on an e-commerce site that can be moved by the cursor and viewed from all angles. The next level might be virtual environments where, for example, the consumer can create a twin of their own living room and see how furnishings fit into it.

Another more complex example is to create a digital twin of a retail store, or of warehousing and logistics facilities. Neumann said that Lowe’s has done this in massive detail — not merely adding products to a virtual store, but also adding many layers of information. We’re creating complete digital stores from data up,” said Neumann. It’s not just visualizations of the products, but also all the financial information and everything that a store operator or store manager needs to know what’s going on in the store and how best to run it.” 

Neumann’s words were an echo of the Siemens keynote on CES opening day. Siemens CEO Roland Busch visualized an industrial metaverse” in which all products, factories, commercial buildings, and more are first created in a virtual environment. This means people can manufacture and test products, or build facilities, bridges, or skyscrapers, etc. in virtual world before having to do so in the real world. This gives what Busch called the gift of hindsight” where designers, engineers, architects, and testers can turn back time where a product or building goes wrong and try something different — using far fewer resources, and with much less time and risk, than if they had made that mistake in real life.

So, what would a digital twin of a telecom store be like?

Dave Chace, President of Cogent360, which supplies Lowe’s with 3D renderings for customers to visualize products in a home environment, told iQmetrix that he sees digital store twins replacing the current catalog” style of e-commerce sites. 

You could have an exact replica of your wireless store, with all the products in place, and it would be highly realistic — right down to the view outside the window,” Chace said. You navigate using your cursor, and click on products to find out their price and promotions, and check out a 3D rendering of that device. You could also click through to all the compatible accessories to add to your basket. Then, when people buy online and pick up their item in store, they’re already familiar with the store layout and have a fully seamless experience.”

Chace also pointed out that you wouldn’t necessarily have to have a twin” or replica, as the possibilities for virtual stores are endless. For example, if you have a line of rugged accessories, your store’ could be set on a mountainside,” he added.

What about retail in non-realistic, virtual worlds?

The concept of spatial commerce also raises endless possibilities for retail in imagined virtual worlds, such as gaming universes like Roblox and Epic. In a panel session called Shopping in a 3D World,” Tom Emrich, Director of Product in the AR Platforms division of Niantic, which makes Pokémon Go, cited Apple CEO Tim Cook, who said recently that we are now entering the age of spatial computing.” Emrich said he believes virtual reality and augmented reality will be used more and more in retail, as well as many other aspects of our lives. 

On the same panel, Justin Hochberg, CEO of Virtual Brands Group, said, Every generation has its own way of shopping, and the new generation of Gen Z and Alpha, are the first generation to transition from 2D social media platforms to 3D spaces. This could be augmented reality on their smartphone, it could be through glasses like Meta’s Smart Glasses, or it could be in gaming worlds like Roblox.” 

In gaming worlds, there is already a huge element of real commerce, where millions of dollars are made annually from players buying items such as avatars or skins. Virtual Brands Group, for example, exposed Barbie merchandising to millions of players across dozens of games in the Roblox ecosystem, using AI to design the entire line in less than a week. The massive exposure of these items in the Roblox world led to huge real-world sales for Virtual Brands’ client. 

Given the high status and desirability of smartphones and other connected devices, it is easy to imagine the possibilities for telecom retailers to find bold new ways of reaching the next generation of consumers in both physical and virtual spaces.