The Next Frontier of Commerce

3D shopping is the next frontier of commerce.  And, it’s already here. 

This week we were excited to host a Power Luncheon, along with Dentsu Aegis Network, at Vox Media’s annual Code Commerce event.  During the lunch, our chief innovation officer, Dave Meeker, along with Recode’s Peter Kafka and Unity Technologies’ Tony Parisi, talked about what the current state of the industry is, where we’re headed and what truly is the next frontier of commerce.

To start, we kicked things off with where we are right now.  AR is already a mainstream technology – people have willingly adopted it. 

Currently, we’re seeing tons of brands – Amazon, Wayfair, IKEA and the like – tapping into the ‘trial products’ AR capability where consumers can ‘try out’ furniture in their homes.  This is where all the big retailers are headed. Everyone is chasing 3D commerce – there is a lot of activity there and a big play to shift funds to it. And, as everyone is focusing on that, the hardware is getting even better – literally by the moment (as seen in Apple’s new iPhone 11 announcement today). 

However, even though all brands want to make a play for AR, it’s not a one size fits all solution.  It needs to make sense for your brand. Tony and Dave both spent time really underscoring this point – it is essential that it is not technology for the sake of technology.

So what are some of the things Tony and Dave see brands trying to succeed at?  For one, 3D scans for clothing try-ons. This is something a lot of companies are trying to figure out, but there is a lot to navigate here.  So, first off, what is it?

Companies are interested in scanning people and creating virtual avatars of these beings so they can try on all different types of clothes, without ever walking into a store or hitting ‘order now.’  What are some of the problems with this?

Let’s start with a big one.  As Dave put it, “90% of people don’t actually like what they really look like.”  This creates an enormous challenge when trying to give people a real look at what the clothes would look like on them. Next up, the scanning.  There are a few ways this can be done but it is not something people readily have access to which makes the barrier to entry a bit harder. One more problem?  The clothing itself. While the technology is incredibly advanced, it still has a hard time conveying different textures and materials. In addition, it can be difficult to “drape” clothing the way you might see it on an actual body.  

While we’re not there yet, it’s exciting to see where brands are headed and what they are thinking about.  Essentially, if your brand represents a physical product, you should be thinking about how you can digitize it and then think about all the things you can do with that digital version.

Now, let’s look at the next couple of years with regard to both the technical side and the adoption of this tech.  

Tony notes that it’s about creating AR ads/experiences through apps that have scale.  Of course, these apps all have inherent scale problems. It an app isn’t a clear utility app, it’s hard to get people to experience your ads in the moment you want them to – it’s more when the consumer is going to this app, which may not be the right moment.  Also, because it’s an advertisement, it has to be a limited form of content. That said, there is great potential here. For instance, Tony mentioned that he’s seen AR ads that have been replayed four or five times and, let’s be honest, that is not typical for an advertisement.  

Another use case? B2B content.  Anytime you’re short of data or context, you can take that as a chance to overlay 3D content onto the real world.  Whether you’re a fireman, contractor or you work at a call center – the opportunities are endless. For instance, if you’re a contractor and want to know where the pipes in the walls are, an easy solution would be an AR map of the plans.

Last up, what can we expect five years out?

Smart glasses that become a replacement for the phone.  Rather than having to occupy one hand, we’ll have it all around us.  That, combined with a 5G network, will allow content to be delivered seamlessly and in a way that creates opportunities for truly incredible experiences.

What should you keep in mind when you’re thinking about AR?

  • Technology excels when it meets an unmet need.
  • Brands want to see results in three years, but it really takes 7 – 10. 
  • No technology for the sake of technology – have a purpose. Yes, we know we’re repeating ourselves.