It’s becoming a fundamental law of the internet: where people socialize, they must also shop. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and practically every other social network and the messaging app has spent the last couple of years trying to make every pixel of your chats and pictures into a one-click purchasing possibility.
Snap’s plans on this front are more ambitious than most. It’s trying to take the whole shopping experience – you see a shirt you like on a stranger, figure out what it is and where to buy it, try it on, buy it, wear it, return it because everything looks better on Ryan Reynolds than you, rinse and repeat – and funnel it through Snap’s AR camera. Through Camera Kit, most of that tech can also work within brands’ websites and retailer apps. And there’s always – always – a buy button.
That’s a lot to do, but Snap’s moving quickly. The company announced that it’s expanding its AR try-on features that let users use their cameras to virtually try on glasses and clothes, and it’s also creating an in-app hub called Dress Up that it hopes could be something like the future of the shopping mall.
Dress Up isn’t meant to feel like just a catalog of stuff to buy, though it certainly is. Snap hopes it can be more fun and experiential than your average Amazon page. “It’s not just a product-feed shopping tab,” Carolina Navas, Snap’s head of AR strategy and product marketing, said. “Now, there’s a really core utilitarian use case that we’re also focused on driving,” because getting to buy things is how everybody gets paid, “but there’s also a huge area of fashion that’s all about self-expression and asking friends for advice and having fun with friends.”
When you open the Dress Up hub and pick an item, you’ll be able to try it on through Snap’s AR lenses and take a picture of how it looks on you and share it with friends to get their thoughts. Dress Up will also have creator content, as well as tips and ideas from brands, all changing based on what you like, how you use the platform, and even where you’re located. And everything everywhere can be bought in just a tap or two.
AR shopping as a concept can seem sort of hokey – how many times do you really need to AR a couch into your living room to see if it fits? – but Snap says it’s starting to catch on. More than 250 million users have used AR shopping lenses a total of more than 5 billion times, and Snap says its data shows those lenses convert a much higher percentage of possible buyers than a normal ad. And Navas said the appeal goes back to the idea that shopping is more than just purchasing. “A lot of people think about the shopping funnel as ending at the purchase,” she said, “but that is the beginning of the customer experience for a brand or retailer who is selling a product.” She pointed to one company, Too Faced cosmetics, that lets users scan their new eyeshadow palette with the Snapchat camera to get a tutorial on how to use it.
The big challenge for Snap will be to grow its catalog to bring all the things people can buy into those AR experiences. So far, that has required a lot of specialized work building three-dimensional digital versions of everything you make, but Snap’s trying to make it easier. It announced a new technology called Snap AR Image Processing, which is exactly what it sounds like: it uses machine learning to take regular product photos and turn them into 3D models. The tech comes from Forma, a virtual-try-on company Snap quietly acquired to improve its try-on experiences. All users need to do is take a full-body selfie, and they can try on almost anything.
Snap has been working on the tech for about 18 months, Navas said and has been testing it with a few brands before rolling it out to more businesses this year. “The actual process to build an AR lens has gone from an 8-12 week experience to minutes.” The tech is new but impressive, she said, and, when combined with user-inputted information about height and weight and whether that shirt that fit in AR actually fits in real life, can get better fast.
Snap, like every other platform trying to embrace in-app shopping, has to be careful not to let the buying experience overrun everything else. Snapchat users might like to shop their friends and favorite celebrities’ looks, but they’re going to like every photo they send being hidden behind a hundred buttons telling you where to buy their eye shadow, necklace, and the plant behind them. Navas said that’s part of the reason Snap made Dress Up its own tab, rather than needlessly integrating the feature everywhere else.
But she’s also pretty confident people like to shop. A lot. “We’re meeting people where their mindset isn’t just, ‘I’m coming to this tab to buy a pair of Prada sunglasses.’ It’s, ‘I’m coming here to explore and have fun and discover products along the way.’”