It’s becoming a fundamental law of the Internet: where people socialize, they should also shop. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and just about every other social media and messaging app on the planet have spent the last few years trying to turn every pixel of their chats and images into a one-click shopping opportunity.
Snap’s plans on this front are more ambitious than most. It’s trying to take advantage of the whole shopping experience: you see a shirt you like on a stranger, find 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 on Ryan Reynolds. you, rinse and repeat, and funnel it through Snap’s AR camera. Through Camera Kit, most of that technology can also work within brand websites and retailer apps. And always, always, there is a buy button.
That’s a long way to go, but Snap is moving fast. The company announced Thursday at its annual Creators Summit that it is expanding its augmented reality try-on features that let users use its cameras to virtually try on glasses and clothing, and is also creating an in-app hub called Dress Up that it hopes could be something like the future of the mall.
Dress Up isn’t meant to feel like a catalog of things to buy, although it certainly is. Snap hopes it can be a little more fun and experiential than your average Amazon page. “It’s not just a product feed shopping tab,” Carolina Navas, Snap’s director of augmented reality strategy and product marketing, said in an interview. “Now, there’s a really core utilitarian use case that we’re also focused on,” because obviously buying stuff is how everyone gets paid, “but there’s also a big area of fashion that has to do with self-expression and asking friends for advice and having fun with friends.”
When you open the Dress Up hub and choose an item, you’ll be able to try it on through Snap’s AR glasses, but also take a picture of how it looks on you and share it with friends for feedback. Dress Up will also have content from creators as well as tips and ideas from brands, all changing based on what you like, how you use the platform, and even where you are. And everything everywhere can be purchased with just a tap or two.
Buying AR as a concept might seem a bit cheesy: how many times do you really need to AR a sofa in 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 glasses a total of more than 5 billion times, and Snap says its data shows that those glasses convert a much higher percentage of potential buyers than a regular ad. And Navas said the appeal goes back to the idea that buying is more than just buying. “Many people think that the shopping funnel ends at the purchase,” he said, “but that’s the beginning of the customer experience for a brand or retailer selling a product.” He pointed to a company, Too Faced Cosmetics, that allows users to 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 growing its catalog to bring all the things people can buy into those AR experiences. Until now, that’s required a lot of specialized work to create 3D digital versions of everything you do, but Snap is 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 photos of products and turn them into 3D models. The technology comes from Forma, a virtual testing company that Snap quietly acquired to improve its testing experiences. All users need to do is take a full body selfie and they can try just about anything.
Snap has been working on the technology for about 18 months, Navas said, and has been testing it with a few brands before rolling it out to more companies this year. “The actual process to build an AR lens has gone from an 8-12 week experience to minutes.” The technology is new but impressive, he said, and, when combined with user-entered information about height and weight, and whether that shirt that fits in AR actually fits in real life, it can improve quickly.
Snap, like any other platform trying to embrace in-app purchases, has to be careful not to let the shopping experience trump everything else. Snapchat users may like to shop for the looks of their favorite friends and celebrities, but they’ll like that every photo they send is hidden behind a hundred buttons that will tell them where to buy their eyeshadow, necklace, and the plant behind them. Navas said that’s part of the reason Snap made Dress Up its own tab, instead of needlessly integrating the feature elsewhere.
But she’s also pretty sure that people like to shop. A lot. “We meet people whose mindset is not just, ‘I’m going to this tab to buy a pair of Prada sunglasses.’ It’s, ‘I come here to explore, have fun and discover products along the way.’”