The Verge recently reported that Snap—the parent company of Snapchat—acquired Vertebrae, a company that creates 3D models and augmented reality experiences for online retail. Snapchat already offers augmented reality features for its creators, and some businesses have used Snapchat’s lenses for augmented reality enhanced shopping experiences.
However, the acquisition of Vertebrae could place Snap in a very unique position in leveraging these tools and features to businesses that wish to create a more immersive shopping experience for their customers. And Snap’s acquisition of Vertebrae could transform online shopping…here’s how!
What to Know about Vertebrae
Vertebrae’s website opens up a glimpse of what the company can bring to Snap’s augmented reality bottom line. Yes, Snapchat already allows businesses to access augmented reality features (including a ‘try-on lens’). However, Vertebrae takes these high-tech experiences to another level.
The company creates 3D models of products for customers (i.e. businesses). This allows shoppers to not just view products as photos but to turn them around and view them at different angles. Vertebrae also can create unique try-on experiences via Space AR and Face AR. With SpaceAR, users can check fit (think furniture). With Face AR, users can virtually try on products. Face AR could include cosmetics, sunglasses, hair color preview, etc.
The company has worked with Toyota, Tenth Street, CB2 and others. In fact, Vertebrae helped create the augmented reality experience that allowed Toyota shoppers to view vehicles in their environment. This augmented reality car showroom of sorts without downloading an app. Instead, users could access the experience via a banner ad.
Augmented Reality and the Consumer Shopping Experience
Augmented reality experiences can heighten the user experience. When shopping online, consumers can use augmented reality to explore products beyond static photos. With these experiences, consumers can enter a unique showroom experience in their own home. Or the face may become the canvas to preview products.
Companies have deployed augmented reality shopping experiences in a variety of ways. For example, Gucci used Snapchat to create an augmented reality try on experience for some of its most popular shoes. It also deployed a virtual shoe that could only be purchased via the Wanna or Gucci app; users could post photos of themselves wearing the unique virtual shoe, too!
Cosmetics brands like Chanel have used augmented reality to let users try on products without leaving home. The augmented reality experience requires access to a camera to show the user’s face. Then products can be chosen to preview. Eyeshadow or lipstick appears on the user’s image…a bit like magic. Ulta’s GLAMlab can even show multiple products at once. This is an easy way for consumers to determine if a product suits their complexion, their style or their personal taste. Warby Parker even lets users try on frames via augmented reality to find the best shapes and styles for their unique face structure.
Why are these experiences so useful for consumers? Augmented reality lets consumers take the guesswork out of their purchase. In the past, buying cosmetics or even ordering paint colors online could be hit or miss. Would the color or product actually look good? Shoppers might have received their purchase, and tried it on only to realize it was a huge miss. Maybe the lipstick really clashed with the complexion. Perhaps swiping the paint hue on the wall didn’t showcase a robin’s egg blue but really something far more electric…and much too bold for the room.
Shopping went online during the pandemic for many consumers. But online shopping isn’t a new fad. Online retail has been around for years. And many shoppers enjoy the convenience of ordering products from home. The problem with online shopping, however, might be related to the barriers in exploring the products.
In the early days of online shopping, many stores or businesses were only able to show pictures of items via their website. Maybe clothes were displayed on models. But there were limitations on how customers could explore the products; photo slideshows or photos of models might have been the only preview options.
Now, though, 3D models of products can let users explore the item from all angles. And maybe augmented reality even lets the item appear in the environment. This means that shoppers aren’t just looking at a sofa; instead, augmented reality experiences let them place it in a room. Now, homeowners can see if a new piece of furniture matches the room…or fits the space.
Augmented Reality and Car Shopping
Vertebrae helped create the augmented reality experience for Toyota that was designed a bit like an augmented reality showroom. These experiences are becoming more prominent in the automotive industry, and this might be because even car shoppers have been forced to shop online during the pandemic.
Now online shopping might be crucial to staying competitive. In fact, Cox Automotive reports that online shopping (i.e. “digital retailing”) “…is key to a long-term winning strategy—with 75% of dealers acknowledging that they won’t be able to survive without it.”
Even before Covid, though, car shoppers were researching via the internet. Back in 2018, Cox Automotive’s 2018 Car Buyer Journey Study noted that “…car buyers spend 60 percent of their time online, and more than three quarters (78 percent) of car buyers use third-party sites, like Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.”
While third-party sites can provide data regarding car prices and other details, augmented reality experiences can allow customers to virtually explore vehicles. Augmented reality experiences, apps and sites can possibly minimize the time shoppers spend at the dealership, too. While shopping for a new car used to include visiting several dealerships, strolling through the lot and looking at different models, the online augmented reality experience can provide a similar experience.
Using augmented reality, shoppers can’t physically touch or interact with the vehicle, but they can explore it visually in 3D. Using the camera from a smartphone or tablet, users show the environment where they wish to preview a vehicle. The consumer can then drop the car into this environment. Augmented reality auto showrooms and experiences can let users walk around the car, look inside, see the car from different vantage points or even change the paint color.
The consumer can use these experiences as a means to explore different vehicles, too. Some augmented reality showrooms aren’t focused on one brand, but they allow users to preview many different makes and models. This can be helpful for shoppers who are in the beginning of their new car hunt. Maybe they don’t know what they want, but these sites or apps can let them explore many different options.
What about Virtual Reality Shopping?
While augmented reality experiences for shopping could be the future of the online retail experience, technology could bring surprises. Many companies are aiming to create consumer-driven augmented reality glasses, and the buzz around these glasses have existed for quite some time. If the glasses become a reality, could they integrate augmented reality shopping experiences? Would glasses show apps for different stores and bring up unique augmented reality experiences to preview products?
Of course, augmented reality also could be bumped by virtual reality. Currently, virtual reality headsets can be purchased at a semi-affordable price. While the buzz around augmented reality is hot, virtual reality can’t be ignored.
However, virtual reality shopping experiences would require retailers to create virtual environments accessible via headsets. So perhaps it would become like a virtual retail space. Virtual reality could allow users to have their own personalized avatars or characters that appear in the realm. Maybe they include the exact measurements of the individual. Of course, augmented reality could create something similar, too.
While future shopping experiences could incorporate augmented or virtual reality, right now augmented reality experiences have been a popular way to enhance the user experience and provide a way for users to explore products at home. Try-on experiences show products on the face (like swiping on blush), the walls (paint!), or even the space (dropping furniture in the living room!). These experiences also include augmented reality showrooms that let users preview automobiles.
Snap’s acquisition of Vertebrae positions the company to create and leverage more immersive experiences. While Snapchat lenses can allow users to enter augmented reality experiences, perhaps the integration of Vertebrae’s expertise allows Snap to take online shopping or app-based shopping to a new level.
No matter how Vertebrae’s technological ingenuity is utilized, though, the future of shopping might be immersive. After all, when users have the choice between previewing products in two-dimensional photos or using augmented reality to view products in 3D or even try them on, the choice might be obvious.
As Generation Z begins to position itself as the most coveted demographic for retailers, these immersive experiences may be vital to the shopping experience. Gen Z has never known life without technology, the internet and social media. AR Insider reported that 40 percent of Zoomers used AR lenses via social media. The site also cited a National Research Group study that found that more than half of Zoomers stated that AR was “very important” for both social and entertainment. AR Insider’s headline asked: “Will Gen-Z be the AR Generation?” Perhaps companies pivot to augmented reality experiences to cater to this generation. And maybe all generations may be forced to embrace the AR future.