Augmented reality has been part of the shopping landscape for a surprisingly long time. Back in 2014
, IKEA launched ‘Place IKEA”, an AR app that helped people figure out where furniture might fit in their homes, and throughout the mid-2010s L’Oreal pioneered AR tools that allowed people to try out makeups and hair colours without leaving their home.
But AR has moved from being an innovative novelty to an e-commerce must-have, particularly for sectors like fashion, cosmetics and optometry where people are torn between their desire to shop from home and the need to try things on.
For Snap, AR shopping is a constantly evolving area. According to Danny Bass, business solutions ANZ, at Snap the mixed reality social media platform has been working hard to innovate as demand inevitably has grown throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We centre our company and our app around AR and the camera because we have long believed this technology can and will do incredible things to enhance our lives and how we learn, explore, shop, make art and more,” says Danny. “Over the past year, Snap has centred on AR shopping as a key company initiative – offering brands real-time AR try-on experiences that reach millions of Snapchatters. From trying on makeup, to shoes, to watches, to glasses, AR shopping is a key emerging part of how our community engages with our app. The pandemic accelerated this behaviour, but AR usage shows no signs of slowing down and it’s leading to true digital transformation.”
Indeed, a recent survey by Foresight Factory in partnership with Snap found that a significant chunk of people have come to expect AR as normal. They found that four in ten (40%) Australian consumers expect AR to be available when shopping in the coming year with around one in five preferring to preview furniture (19%), clothes (20%), beauty (20%) and luxury (16%) items using AR rather than having to go in-store.
And as expectations grow, the platform has been working to make AR shopping easier for both brands and users to engage with. One of the most recent developments at Snap has been what they call ‘Catalog-powered Shopping Lenses’ – to put it simply it integrates the AR lens with the brands’ catalogue of products to make the journey from try to buy even slicker.
“For Snapchatters, it gives them a more simplified, more useful AR try-on shopping interface – quickly see product info like prices, descriptions, and unique URLs to purchase with new Lens Product Cards as you try on products. For brands, it generates real-time results and instant feedback on which products our Gen Z and Millennial audience is drawn to (good for R&D). Additionally, it expands on our simple Lens Web Builder. Now beauty brands can create Shopping Lenses in as fast as two minutes– with more verticals coming soon,” says Danny.
Those real-time results can help brands figure out which products Snapchatters are drawn to and that , in turn, can help when they’re figuring out targeting strategies or even future product development.
Working on this newest iteration, Snap partnered with two beauty brands, Ulta Beauty and MAC Cosmetics to develop Beta cases to prove the impact of the platforms. In the course of two weeks, Ulta saw $6m in incremental purchases on Snapchat and over 30 million try-ons. And for MAC, they saw 1.3 million try-on experiences and a 17x increase in purchases among female consumers as well as a 2.4x lift in brand awareness and 9x lift in purchase intent.
What’s driving this appetite among Snapchat users? “Snapchatters love to express their creativity and beauty brands allow the perfect opportunity to do this through AR play,” says Danny. “AR lenses are available to users as soon as they launch the app, which opens straight to the camera, meaning they can engage with brands with a click of a button.”
However, beauty and fashion brands are the obvious fit for something like Snap’s AR lenses – but Danny says that the platform is also flexible and creative enough to be used in all sorts of sectors.
“Fashion and cosmetics have effectively utilised our AR shopping technology, but we have successfully worked with brands in electronics and automotives as well,” says Danny. “In Australia, we worked with Hyundai to launch their new Kona SUV using an AR Lens that allowed Snapchatters to explore the Hyundai Kona and the latest technology that it had to offer in the comfort of their own homes.
“We also partnered with Samsung Electronics Australia to launch three shoppable AR experiences on Snapchat. The campaign combined Snap’s AR Try-On feature with new AR Ear and Wrist tracking technology that allowed the user to view and try-on the new Galaxy smartphone, watch and earphone devices at home.”
In order to make the platform as easy as possible for brands, Snap is one of many companies that have joined the trend of making creative self-service tools to allow brands to have more control over their assets. Lens Web Builder is a free web creation tool that allows brands to create an AR experience for Snapchat – but now they’ve added AR shopping templates in order to make it even easier to create what Danny calls ‘Commerce Lenses’.
However, for brands that want to dig a bit deeper or push harder, Snap has its own inhouse creative shop too, Arcadia. “Creativity is at the heart of everything we do. Snap recently launched a new global creative studio named Arcadia, which focuses on creating branded AR content, experiences and new tech tools for brands. It’s a whole new division of Snap Inc, designed on the studio model and catering to several clients of record. It offers clients workshops, insights and trend reporting to boost their own work on Snapchat and in AR.”
For brands that are interested in engaging in augmented or mixed reality and bringing it to their e-commerce strategy, Danny argues that the ‘camera strategy’ will become a normal part of the marketing mix sooner rather than later. “The next decade will see a new form of marketing strategy dominate – that of the camera strategy. Once a nice-to-have feature, AR has quickly become an essential technology for retailers. In part due to the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the shift to digital shopping, we’re seeing the trend is here to stay as consumers want the benefits of offline shopping online. This represents an exciting opportunity for brands to not only drive awareness but also affinity and conversion at scale.”
And that doesn’t just represent the future of marketing or shopping for Snap. As tech brands line up to present their visions of the metaverse or marshall their troops and ready themselves for the prophesied Web3 with colossal acquisitions, this mixed reality shopping experience from Snap is a window into their view of what the future of our digital lives might look like. It’s a bit more fluid and hermetically sealed and as all about letting people have real world fun boosted by technology.
“There is a lot of conversation around the metaverse at the moment, but at Snap, we want to design technology that really weaves into the real world in a seamless way rather than building a new abstract world,” says Danny. “In terms of AR shopping, we want to design an experience that’s connected to the real world, that is positive and will really allow you to bring in elements of creativity.”