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Innovator Intelligence: CGI Provides Benefits for Retail That Traditional Photography Cannot Match


Producing images through traditional photography can be expensive, time consuming and logistically complex when multiple versions are required due to changes in consumer and business demands. With commerce now happening across social media, livestreaming/video and the metaverse, brands and retailers face increasing pressure to create higher volumes and a more diverse range of visual content to shoppers wherever they are, for marketing purposes. Photoshoots for a season’s product catalog are no longer sufficient—brands and retailers now need to produce daily, or more frequent, visual content across a variety of digital channels, such as websites, email, social media and more. 

The shortcomings of traditional photography, coupled with the rapidly growing demand for visual content to sell and market online, make photorealistic computer-generated imagery (CGI) a viable alternative. CGI, which is also known as 3D rendering, is the process of creating hyper-realistic 2D images using 3D models through computer software. Furniture retailers such as IKEA and John Lewis have already begun using CGI content on their websites and product catalogs.

Figure 1 shows how photorealistic CGI works.

Figure 1. Process of How Photorealistic CGI Works

Source: Coresight Research


In this Innovator Intelligence report, we analyze the latest trends in
e-merchandising, and underline the importance and benefits of photorealistic CGI. 

This report is sponsored by Nfinite, an e-merchandising software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform. 

Market Scale and Opportunity

Retail marketers can gain a competitive edge by investing in visual content, which is set to become more integrated into marketing strategies: 63% of marketers globally believe that over 60% of businesses will rely heavily on visual content marketing moving forward, according to a 2021 study conducted by Venngage. 

According to a BigCommerce study in 2020, 78% of US online shoppers expect to see product images on online sites. Product images matter because consumers use them to make product purchase decisions.

The global visualization and 3D rendering software market is set to total $6.3 billion in 2026, up from $2.9 billion in 2022, according to Global Industry Analysts estimates.

CGI Provides Benefits for Retail That Traditional Photography Cannot Match: Coresight Research x Nfinite Analysis 

We summarize the key benefits of photorealistic CGI over traditional photography in Figure 2, and discuss key themes in e-merchandising below.

Figure 2. Benefits of Photorealistic CGI Over Traditional Photography

wdt_ID - Photorealistic CGI Traditional Photography
1 Method of generation Computer software Cameras
2 Cost Relatively low (Around $150 on average per 3D model) Relatively high (Around $1,000 on average for a professional photography session)
3 Reusability Unlimited reuse Static (single use only)
4 Speed to market 63% quicker than traditional photography Can take up to six months to produce photos for one single scene
5 Impact on environment 50% more carbon efficient Less carbon efficient
6 Adaptibility to different formats Images, animations, videos, augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), Web 3.0 compatible Images only

Source: SuperDNA 3D Lab/Nfinite/Saddington Baynes/Coresight Research


The Need to Reduce Returns and Improve Speed to Market Fuels Photorealistic CGI Adoption

Returns are a prominent issue in retail, representing an average of 16.6% of total retail sales in the US in 2021, up from 10.6% in 2020, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail conducted in October/November 2021. Following pandemic-fueled e-commerce growth, savvy retailers are paying more attention to returns and increasingly turning to AI (artificial intelligence)-powered tools and 3D images to reduce returns. 

  • Shopify merchants that used 3D visualization experienced a 40% decrease in product returns, according to Shopify in a 2020 VNTANA presentation.

In an era of heightened competition, speed to market  is key. While traditional photography entails a complex workflow and slows the product launch process, CGI uses 3D models, which makes subsequent creation, editing and reuse of images cheaper and less time consuming. By placing 3D models onto different colors and scenes, CGI makes it easier to conduct A/B testing by quickly and easily creating different variations of an image, or even creating content before physical products are produced. 

  • British fragrance and lifestyle brand Jo Malone switched from traditional photography to CGI in 2019 to display its products globally and to produce more images to meet consumer demand. This also enables Jo Malone to feed more product content onto social channels and to produce multiple product images based on different customer cohorts, store demand and times of year.

The Rise of E-Commerce, Social Commerce and the Metaverse Increases Demand for More Product Visuals

Coresight Research estimates the US e-commerce market will increase from $993.1 billion in 2022 to $1.9 trillion by 2030. The rapid rise of e-commerce is leading to an increase in social commerce and the evolution of shopping in the metaverse, which will drive the need for more product visuals across different channels and formats. With changes in consumers’ shopping behaviors, coupled with advances in 3D technology, photorealistic CGI will become table stakes for the future of e-commerce.

The proliferation of different digital channels is fueling demand for more creative product visuals that are specific to different e-commerce platforms while maintaining the company’s values and its universal message. For example, due to the increasing use of social platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok, companies need to keep producing new visuals, as social media platform algorithms favor companies that publish new content over ones that reuse the same images.

The metaverse has gained immense traction in the past couple of years, and we believe that it will continue to expand and establish a key role in digital retail. Unlike traditional photography, 3D models can easily adapt to the metaverse’s technical image requirements. Brands and retailers can seize a first-mover advantage by establishing visual footprints in the metaverse through the mastering of CGI.

Lifestyle and 360-Degree Images Improve Visual Storytelling and Provide Better and More Personalized Experiences

Consumers want to have a better understanding of how a product might fit into their lives, visualizing products in various settings and use cases. There is therefore an increasing need for higher-quality lifestyle images in retail to showcase a product’s functions, uses and benefits as well as to create a deeper and more personalized connection to each consumer. Overall, improving visual storytelling is one of the keys to creating a better customer experience. 

According to “The State of Personalization 2022” report from customer data platform Twilio Segment, 49% of global consumers say they will likely become repeated buyers of a brand after they have a personalized shopping experience with that brand. Moreover, from the same study, almost 80% of business leaders said that consumers spend 34% more on average when their experiences are personalized.

Photorealistic CGI can create hyper-realistic images that enhance consumers’ online browsing experiences by depicting products in their desired use-case context. We believe that brands that create a lifestyle around their products are more successful in driving engagement and ultimately conversion. In visual merchandising, lifestyle images can better connect with human emotions and influence purchasing decisions.

Example of a lifestyle image created with CGI
Example of a lifestyle image created with CGI
Source: CGI Furniture


Photorealistic CGI, through 3D models, can also produce images featuring products from different angles with just a few clicks, providing viewers an experience that is closer to engaging with the product in real life. 

  • Grainger, a US industrial supplies and equipment company, reported in 2018 that it gained an average 47% increase in conversion rate when products were shown with a 360-degree image, compared with traditional product photography.

Consumer Attitudes Toward Sustainability Make CGI Worth Considering 

Coresight Research has identified sustainability as a key trend to watch in retail; consumers are now demanding more from brands and retailers in this area. Three in 10 respondents said the Covid-19 pandemic has made sustainability more of a factor while shopping, according to Coresight Research’s annual consumer survey on sustainability, with findings analyzed in our July 2022 US Consumer Tracker Extra. 

While industry discussion around sustainability has mostly been on transportation, shipping and manufacturing, companies can also be sustainable regarding image creation. In fact, forward-thinking companies are producing product images through CGI, which is more environmentally friendly than traditional photography.

  • UK bedding brand Dreams partnered with a 3D content provider in April 2022 to produce CGI visuals, which minimized environmental impact by preventing the need to ship beds in different colors to multiple locations. Dreams was also able to reduce production costs by 20% year over year, and deliver over 60% more visuals at the same time, the company reported.
Example of a Dreams bedding image produced with CGI
Source: ArtStation


  • Fashion magazine Vogue Italia made a statement of not including photo shoots in its January 2020 issue due to the environmental costs associated. In a note to the magazine’s readers, Emanuele Farneti, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia, said that filling a magazine issue with photo shoots could incur environmental pollution and waste, ranging from sending people globally through flights and trains to shipping clothing boxes to creating plastic wrap on garments.

CGI projects lead to fewer carbon emissions compared with physical photography by removing the need for packaging and fuel for the delivery of physical prototypes, especially when air travel is involved. CGI is over 50% more carbon efficient when factoring in airline travel alone, according to Saddington Baynes. The figure can be higher when production vehicle emissions and waste are also considered. 

Company Overview: Nfinite

Founded in France, Nfinite has global offices serving the North American, European and Asian markets. It offers an e-merchandising SaaS platform, which uses CGI technology to help brands and retailers create, manage and display photorealistic 3D visuals of their product catalog quickly and affordably. Nfinite also helps companies deliver lifestyle images, interactive and immersive experiences, and real-time personalized content to their customers worldwide. Currently, major verticals that Nfinite serves include home and living, home improvement, consumer goods, luxury goods, and cosmetics.

User interface of Nfinite
Source: Nfinite


By partnering with Nfinite, brands and retailers can create a “digital twin” of each of their products in 3D. Brands and retailers can then easily change the colors, patterns or even textures of the 3D digital twins. A feature of Nfinite’s platform, Dynamic Display, has been shown to increase engagement and conversion rates while reducing returns rates. According to Nfinite, Dynamic Display has led to improvements in website and conversion performance, including a 2.5X increase in clickthrough rate, a 53% increase in conversion rate and a 2.8X improvement in repeat customer engagement.

Business Offerings

Nfinite offers three solutions: 

  1. Packshot Creator enables users to create 360-degree photorealistic images of products.
  2. Scene Creator enables the creation of lifestyle scenes through multiple available lifestyle templates, with the option of exporting to different output formats.
  3. Dynamic Display enables a vast degree of front-end image customization, which allows users to interact and customize their shopping experiences on websites.
Nfinite’s Scene Creator feature
Source: Nfinite


Competitive Advantages

  • Nfinite’s user-friendly features are fully customizable and do not require technical expertise to use.
  • Nfinite has thousands of pre-built scene templates, where products or pre-built product models can be placed to add detail to images.
  • The company hosts the largest community of professional 3D modelers and designers focused on retail and positions itself as a leader in 3D retail.
  • Nfinite provides visual assets that are compatible with both Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 applications such as AR, VR and the metaverse.
  • The company’s Dynamic Display empowers a digital shopper to mix and match products in a scene in real time to match their personal aesthetic. 
  • The company serves the different needs of customers that turn up with either no 3D models, basic 3D models or advanced 3D models. 

Case Study: Increased Sales, Page Visits and Add-to-Cart Rates at Lower Costs

Delamaison is an online French retailer of household furniture and decoration products. It once experienced the challenge of limited expenses for visual creation but it wanted to transform its website into a persuasive commercial visual tool to create consumer interest and generate traffic.  

Delamaison partnered with Nfinite’s online merchandising solution in 2020. When compared with product pages not using Nfinite, this increased total sales by 6%, increased page visits by 30%, and increased add-to-cart by 12% on product pages that used Nfinite’s solution. Delamaison also saved 85% in per-image production costs compared with the previous solution it was using.

What We Think

It is time for brands and retailers to rethink their approach to producing product visuals in light of various challenges such as increasing competition, speed-to-market, proliferating sales channels and customer reach. Leveraging solutions that use CGI will not only help in reducing production costs and improve speed-to-market, but also enable product visual production across multiple channels with personalization capabilities.

CGI also aids brands and retailers in producing photorealistic images with interactivity, improving the customer experience by giving customers the ability to see products in contexts that are relevant to them. Forward-looking furniture and beauty brands and retailers are already adopting CGI to create different photorealistic images more quickly.

Product photographers employed by brands and retailers should not stick to traditional photography, which is outdated and no longer suits consumers’ latest needs. They should upskill by equipping themselves with knowledge of CGI and 3D asset production, which can ultimately help brands and retailers drive conversion and growth.

Solution providers that work with brands and retailers can also couple their CGI and 3D production technologies with AI to further strengthen their automation capabilities, making user experiences even more seamless and personalized.

About Coresight Research Innovator Intelligence

Coresight Research Innovator Intelligence reports are produced in partnership with leading firms in the retail, technology and startup ecosystems. These reports present expert analysis and proprietary data on key topics in the retail, technology and related industries,and enable partner companies to communicate their brand and messaging to a wider audience within the context of brand-relevant research.