Snapchat invests in AR shopping solutions
Rabbit ears, dog tongues and cat heads: augmented reality (AR) filters applied to selfies have been instrumental in the success of the Snapchat app, launched in the early 2010s, alongside the possibility of sending videos and creating “stories”.
Snap Inc., the company behind the Snapchat app, claims to have no fewer than 363 million daily users worldwide, with over 6 billion filters (called “lenses” by Snap) applied daily, and 250 million people swapping filters online every day. The US company said that it can rely on over 300,000 content developers, who have designed and produced a total of 3 million different filters. The latest Avatar filters, created for the second instalment of James Cameron’s sci-fi film saga, and the “crying lenses”, which transform faces and make them cry in videos, are the source of endless digital fun.
Snap now wants to exploit its AR know-how more intensely, by developing a much broader and more marketable range of solutions.
The company set up an AR studio in Paris last year, and is now busy showcasing the extent of its potential. Last autumn, Snap staged a cultural initiative in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Applying AR filters to the museum’s façade, the app encouraged its users, most of them young (94% of 15 to 24-year-olds in France are Snapchat users, according to a survey by Médiametry carried out in spring 2022), to connect with the museum in an original way.
British sport retailer JD Sports adopted a similar approach to generate new traffic for its Oxford Street flagship in London, during the end of year festivities. Snapchat users, by aiming their smartphone’s camera at the store front and scanning a “snapcode”, were able to access and play an AR-based arcade game, which tied in perfectly with JD Sports’s “King of the Game” Christmas ad campaign.
Retail events are a growth driver for Snap, which is keen to convince consumer brands to tap its know-how to deploy new retail features. At a presentation in mid-December in Paris, Snap highlighted the Snapchat functionalities designed to enable consumer brands, notably fashion and beauty labels, to interact with customers.
“Augmented reality makes it possible to raise the online shopping experience to a new level,” said Geoffrey Perez, global head of luxury at Snap Inc. “There’s a big difference between looking at a product on a website and being able to see it on yourself. Technology helps refocus the [shopping] experience on the user. According to studies we have carried out, in 80% of cases AR improves conversion rates, and 66% of e-tailers claim they’ve had fewer returns. When we consider that returns represent a loss of $550 billion worldwide for retailers and have a huge environmental cost, this becomes a very important factor,” he added.
In practical terms, Snapchat offers brands the opportunity to design filters that allow consumers to virtually try on shoes, watches and dresses. Snap has developed several solutions in this field, from 2D options, applying products to photos as though viewed in a mirror, to 3D ones, using video and scaled images of the products in question.
Snap is placing special emphasis on its machine-learning and 3D object materialisation technologies, notably the wrist tracker tool that makes it possible to visualise how watches and bracelets are worn, and ray-tracing technology, which sharpens materials rendering, for example in the case of jewellery. “We develop new solutions every year, and we work with luxury, fashion and beauty brands to obtain the most accurate renderings possible, whether in terms of object definition or of how fabrics drop,” said Perez.
Snap is also aiming to encourage Snapchat users to shop online regularly. The Dress Up tool, launched in 2022, is designed to group together filters by different brands, and to both facilitate online shopping and help consumers find stores that sell specific products. Snap said it has started collaborating with L'Oréal, Pandora, MAC, Puma, Farfetch, Dior, Rains and Prada.
With its various solutions, Snap is keen to win over the big names in fashion and luxury, and find new commercial opportunities. A necessity for Snap, which recorded a revenue of $4.4 billion last year and is set to publish its 2022 annual results in the coming weeks, but has been going through a troubled patch, and had to put a restructuring plan in place last year. The company is also having to deal with increasingly strong competitors.
US group Meta, a front-runner in digital tech, is spearheading the development of technologies similar to those adopted by Snap, and is touting its Spark AR software. Chinese social media app TikTok, massively adopted by young people, is making fast progress with its Effect House tool. Snap is also developing other projects, such as the Spectacles AR glasses and the Bitmoji Fashion characters for the metaverse, and the challenge for the US company will be managing to sweep the rug from under its competitors’ feet and becoming the first to harness the commercial potential of augmented reality.
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