Amazon Amplifies Virtual ‘Try-Before-You-Buy’ Shopping

This is the latest in Localogy’s Skate To Where the Puck is Going series. Running semi-weekly, it examines the moves and motivations of tech giants as leading indicators for where markets are moving. Check out the entire series here, and its origin here


One of the innovations we continue to track is computer vision’s use in shopping and commerce. Sort of a cousin to augmented reality, this is all about using ubiquitous and constantly-improving smartphone cameras to scan one’s surroundings. Those scans can then prompt things like navigation or store info.

Several tech giants are working towards different versions of this vision. Snapchat is rolling out ways to leave location-anchored graphics for friends to discover. This could be a step towards more practical and commerce-based use cases like business reviews anchored to storefronts in AR interfaces.

Going back further, Google has long revealed its intentions to use the smartphone as a visual search tool for local discovery. Its Google Lens and Live View features lets users hold up their phones at various objects to contextualize them. And like Snap, this will have local-commerce based endpoints.

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The latest move comes from Amazon, which this week announced Room Decorator. Different but related to the above AR interactions, it scans one’s room to form a spatial map that lets it then place 3D furniture models. These can be moved around in dimensionally and proportionately-accurate ways.

This branch of augmented reality is known as “try before you buy.” The idea is that you can remotely get a sense of a product’s dimensions, textures and other key variables. It’s been popular so far with cosmetics and style items, but its real value may be realized with large items like couches and TVs.

Room Decorator also represents an evolutionary step for Amazon in that it already had a lighter version of this feature called AR View. This update brings the ability to view several items at once, which comes in handy for furniture sets or coordinated decor (and it can lead to larger basket sizes).

The timing here is also notable, as tech giants continue to pivot — or accelerate existing product road maps — towards all things eCommerce in the Covid era. AR’s integration is logical because it can help shoppers gain back some of the product interaction that they’ve lost from retail lockdowns.

The other thing that try-before-you-buy features accomplish is a sort of “best of both worlds” scenario. In other words, consumers can achieve the benefits of eCommerce (pricing, endless-aisle, etc.), with the benefits of in-store shopping (more informed purchases and product perspectives).

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This best of both worlds concept is analogous to the hybrid scenarios we’ll see in the “next normal.” In other words, the world will eventually backslide to old-normal habits. But there will also be modifications that cherry-pick the best covid-era discoveries that spring from forced new perspectives.

AR shopping could be one of those. AR retailers are already realizing its benefits in the form of performance metrics. For example, AR product visualization has a proven ability to boost eCommerce conversion rates. The informed purchase that visualization breeds can also reduce returns.

That last part resonates with e-tailers that “take a bath” on free returns for hefty items like flat-screen TVs. If consumers can make more informed purchases by knowing the TV fits on the wall, they’re less likely to return it. This is especially relevant for Amazon which operates on razor-thin margins.

That brings us full circle to Amazon’s latest move. Room Decorator will not only exploit retail’s current explosion, but it could vault AR shopping by exposing it. Through a mere exposure effect — amplified by Amazon’s operational scale — this could represent AR’s moment to shine.

Meanwhile, Room Decorator launches this week as a feature within Amazon’s flagship iOS app to about half of its iOS installed base in the U.S..  It will then roll out to over the next few weeks to the remaining share of iOS devices in the U.S.. We’ll be test driving it and watching its traction closely.

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