The Covid-19 pandemic has halted international travel. According to the UN international tourist numbers could fall by 60-80% in 2020 and Forbes is speculating that business travel may be headed for structural changes. The implications of Covid-19 are thus clear: not only consumer habits, but also business practices are changing. Organisations are realising that costly trips can often be avoided and that technology can be an enabler to affect this change.
The overnight breakthrough of video conferencing systems has already demonstrated that face-to-face meetings are not required at all times and that sometimes a video call might be just as efficient.
For procurement professionals the limited ability to attend trade shows, meet potential vendors and visit factories has been very problematic. A powerpoint presentation can never truly convey the look and feel of a product and video calls prevent a buyer from personally interacting with the product. All this increases complexity:
- There is a greater chance that expectations and reality do not align and that actual product properties differ from the expected properties.
- Buyers are less likely to place large purchase orders with confidence. Smaller volumes on the other hand may lead to increased unit costs.
- Vendors may find it time consuming and ineffective to parade their entire catalogue around for a large number of potential buyers.
- The business impact of all these factors can be summarised as follows: costs increase and time is wasted.
A buyer can study a product in great detail, in an ultra-realistic, optionally also virtual reality environment. Here are the different tier options for virtually reviewing products:
3D product images: 3D product images are a great starting point. In contrast to standard 2D photos, images created using 3D modeling software can be freely rotated in a virtual space when viewed on a computer or mobile phone.
360 degree showrooms: these virtual environments help provide more context to a product. This is important for products that interact with the environment, such as furniture. A 360 degree environment enables sourcing professionals to better gauge what a product looks like when used in context.
Augmented Reality showrooms: The premium option are AR showrooms. The big advantage of this option is that a buyer who is wearing 3D goggles or using an AR enabled smartphone (any modern phone) can freely interact with a product and host virtual meetings to discuss prototypes and samples with peers and suppliers located elsewhere.
Besides helping procucement teams overcome travel restrictions, virtual showrooms and 3D product images provide other big advantages:
They allow buyers to participate in the product development stage at a much earlier stage. Different options for material selection, colour and even specific design elements can be tried and tested virtually within seconds long before the first physical prototype is built. The need to go through multiple sampling rounds is thereby reduced and product options deemed unfit can be filtered out much faster and at lower costs. Communications are also more efficient as proposed design alterations do not need to be explained over email or phone, but can be virtually applied by the buyer. This helps speed up the product development cycle and makes it easier to assess the design and cost impact of product design changes.