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From dream to reality: AR is next in the social commerce experience

IMA | Influencer Marketing Agency

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March 19, 2021 | 6 min read

Long associated with futuristic products, it may have been hard for many to envision how augmented reality (AR) could seamlessly fit in our daily lives

While social platforms have been experimenting with it for a while—especially in the creation of filters—now, it’s likely that this technology will be increasingly used to further improve social commerce offerings and help close the gap between digital and physical experiences for brands, offering substantial value in everyday people’s lives.

If 2020 was the year that social media channels incorporated ecommerce into their platforms, 2021 will be the year when they will take the shopping experience to a new dimension through AR.

With the AR wearables market on the horizon, the time has come for social platforms to start blending the digital and physical worlds beyond creative possibilities and into commercial opportunities. This technology is now a very real possibility for social platforms to elevate their ecommerce offerings while improving users experiences.

Although mobile AR has already been widely adopted by consumers and social media platforms for a while in the form of filters, Snapchat and TikTok have been experimenting with ways of implementing this technology to enhance users’ and brands’ creative possibilities even further.

The momentum couldn’t be better, as the simultaneous advancement in mobile AR technology serves as a big facilitator of AR adoption by social media. For instance, Apple recently integrated a LiDAR sensor into some of its latest iPhones, enhancing the accuracy of distance and measurement. This technology not only improves the precision with which 3D models are generated, but also enables AR apps to start and run more quickly.

Taking advantage of Apple’s LiDAR sensor, Snapchat created Lens Studio 3.2, AR lenses powered by LiDAR technology that allow creators and developers to build AR experiences that are more realistically integrated with the physical world. Proving its long-term commitment to AR, the platform also launched a feature called Local Lenses to its broader audience, a shareable and collaborative AR experience which transformed real neighbourhoods into digital street art.

TikTok has likewise been exploring AR in fun and innovative ways. The app’s latest AR endeavor is an effect released in January, featuring a digital version of the Times Square New Year’s countdown ball drop, which was also created with the help of LiDAR. But overall, TikTok’s AR offerings are very entertaining and original, putting the app at an advantage over some other social platforms, like Instagram.

When it comes to leveraging AR, Snapchat and TikTok have been generally ahead of their competitors. They are among the first platforms to leverage mobile AR technology and to experiment with AR to create much more immersive experiences that better interact with users’ entire environment, instead of limiting it to face filters and effects.

AR goes shopping

While social media platforms have been using AR to enhance users’ creative possibilities with exciting new features, the next big step in their ventures will likely be directed to a commercial use of this technology. In fact, these platforms have already started to dip their toes in the water, but only recently has a complete integration of social, ecommerce and AR begun to take place.

Instagram started testing AR try-on features with selected brands in 2019, which included sunglasses and make-up. Last year, Pinterest launched a lipstick try-on, which was recently expanded to include try-on tools for eye-shadows, too. Digitally placing products on users’ faces and bodies gives them additional context to better assess and compare, and ultimately increases customers’ purchase confidence.

However, Snapchat’s recent developments point to expanding AR try-ons into a shoppable format. In 2020, the app partnered with Gucci and launched a sponsored AR shoe try-on powered by Lens, which enabled users to shop directly from the platform via a “shop now” button, without having to leave Snapchat.

These innovations, while only in their initial stages, can elevate the online shopping experience and entice users, transforming social platforms into one-stop shops for their purchase needs.

Adding a layer of human connections to ads

Apart from the possibility of seamlessly taking consumers straight to the shopping cart, another big plus of having AR try-ons embedded in social platforms is their shareability potential.

Even if audiences do not click the “shop now” button and only share a picture of their virtual try-ons with their network, your brand still comes out on top—after all, it’s not always that people are willing to share and promote a product. And they are more likely to share if they are already within an environment that compels them to do so.

The wider adoption of AR by social platforms also opens up new possibilities for collaborations between influencers and brands. By using AR products instead of real ones, influencers will not only be able to create content faster but more of it, too, as the limitations associated with physical products—such as delays with shipping, and PR package waste—can be eliminated. Creators can try on lots of different products in just a few swipes, while companies save costs and become more eco-friendly.

But perhaps more interestingly, this technology enables the emergence of a different type of content, based on the combination between the physical and virtual worlds. Think about how influencers take their followers with them to shop for clothes, or how they document the process of redecorating their homes. If AR enables them to do these sorts of things digitally, it will create new possibilities for creators to entertain their audiences in exciting new ways.

As AR technology evolves, it will enhance user experiences on social media—and perhaps create shopping experiences that were never possible within a physical environment. Either way, content creation and storytelling possibilities will be taken to new heights. The future of AR on social media is still to be written, but from where I’m standing it is looking bright.

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