The future of shopping looks a lot like the future of work: not virtual or in-person, per se, but a hybrid of the two. This, according to Angelo Coletta, the founder of Zakeke, the visual commerce platform that has taken retail by storm thanks to his customization technology.
Coletta says that retail sales have quadrupled over the past four years, proving that while Covid was initially considered an economy-killer, it has instead become an engine for unprecedented innovation. Italy-based Zakeke now has over 7,000 customers across 400 different industries, serving everyone from fashion giants, such as Armani, to gaming companies like Ubisoft. The company’s growth has continued to impress as it signs up new partners and clients from every industry imaginable.
AR, 2D, 3D
AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) may get all of the attention these days, but Zakeke is employing AR (augmented reality) to revolutionize the e-commerce landscape. Retailers and others are using the company’s technology in a variety of ways, from virtual try-ons for eyewear to modeling home and office spaces in 3D. Whatever the use, the outcome is the same: giving customers exactly what they want without the risk of disappointment.
Zakeke’s Visual Customizer, for example, allows retailers to offer a personalized online experience wherever customers create customized products— cell phone covers, cups, shirts for example. Customers can make their purchases unique in virtually any way imaginable, from adding custom images to changing colors and fonts of existing text, to having engraved effects on wood or glass. Zakeke’s software even allows customers to rotate and reposition graphics and text for an added layer of individuality.
The 3D Product Configurator takes the customization process up a notch. Coletta wanted his tool to work across industries, meaning that it would have to be able to work with items from apparel to furniture to car interiors and more, using 3D, without code or being a 3D expert. The reason is obvious. As consulting giant McKinsey has noted, personalization will be the prime driver of marketing success by 2024. Customers now expect to be intimately involved in virtually every aspect of a purchase’s creation, from design to materials to branding. They also expect to do almost everything from the comfort of wherever they happen to be at the time, including from their mobile device.
“From the beginning, we set out to work with multiple industries,” Coletta says. “We want to work with any retailer or manufacturer who wants to provide a better and more personalized experience for their customers.”
There is science behind Zakeke’s success; while Covid may have changed habits, social media has changed consumer behavior. Gen Zs and millennials, for instance, are far more interested in showing off their personal uniqueness than earlier generations, but one of the main drivers of purchasing is the number of times that an item has been viewed. Regardless of age, people are far more likely to come back to something that they themselves are creating. In this regard, Zakeke is providing its clients with a truly interactive shopping experience for their customers, whether they happen to be selling fashion, furniture, web-to-print, gaming, or virtually anything else that others will see.
“Of course, we can provide the same experience online or in-store using a kiosk,” Coletta observes. “The great thing about cloud-based technology is that it is scalable, so we are able to serve everyone from very small shops to multinational brands.” He adds that Zakeke is also cross-platform and multi-lingual, so the company can create a retail journey for just about anyone on the planet who has access to the Internet.
Getting it right the first time
Another major consideration, Coletta says, is helping his clients keep their costs in check. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers returned nearly 20 percent of their on-line purchases last year — over $761 billion in returns that had to be re-shipped, re-processed and re-purposed for re-sale. Returns have been a massive issue for e-commerce companies, particularly as retailers like Shein ship globally. It is often cheaper for customers to keep the undesired item than for the retailer to take it back, which has not only created a great deal of waste, but a lot of people trying to game the system.
“If a customer themselves designed or customized a product in 2D, 3D or using AR,” Coletta says, “it is much less likely that they will be disappointed or surprised. It is also much easier for the retailer to refuse to take it back, since they cannot just turn around and sell a custom item to someone else.”
With costs rising and e-commerce sales flatlining, Amazon — the country’s largest e-commerce company — has been experimenting with AR-based virtualization of everything from shoes to hair color. Coletta is looking to stay one step ahead by entering the Metaverse via a series of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. With brands as divergent as Nike, Wal-Mart and Gucci already staking out a virtual presence, Zakeke is working to bring its technology to the next generation of customers, wherever they decide to hang out.
“Trends in e-commerce are constantly changing, and customers are finding it hard to keep up,” Coletta says. “No one would have guessed 10 years ago that people would be shopping for both clothes and cars on their cell phones. We are plugged into the technologies and trends that matter, and we will continue to move the needle for our clients’ businesses.”
Coletta has a personal goal, as well; by empowering business, he hopes that Zakeke becomes the global leader in providing the right visual commerce solution for all. Thanks to e-commerce platforms like Etsy, Shopify and Adobe Commerce, the retail landscape has been shifting away from legacy department stores and in favor of smaller businesses that adapt new technologies like AR. In other words, Coletta says, future success is no longer about having the right address, but having the right tools for your customers — wherever they are, and wherever they want to go next.