One piece of Snap’s AR master plan that’s increasingly evident is to drive local commerce. AR is inherently conducive to local commerce, as geo-anchoring aspects of the technology provide a foundation for utilities like local search and discovery via location-relevant AR content.
This is a key principle behind the AR cloud, and all its versions — everything from Mirrorworld to Magicverse. As we examined last week, Google similarly wants to build an Internet of places — revealed through Google Lens — by indexing the physical world just like it indexed the web.
The payoff for these efforts is monetization potential — through advertising, affiliate revenue or other models — to facilitate local offline commerce. It’s often forgotten that brick & mortar commerce (at least in normal times) accounts for a commanding majority of consumer spending.
We’ve examined this aspect of AR for a few years, but more has happened in the past few months to compel us to revisit the topic and continue connecting the dots. Like we did last week for Google and its recent moves towards AR-fueled local commerce, what’s Snapchat’s latest?
Shared and Persistent
Snap’s past moves in local commerce include geo-filters, while more recent activity includes Local Lenses and business listings in Snap Map. These features are notable on their own, but get more interesting when you view them together and extrapolate to Snap’s local road map.
Starting with Local Lenses, they work towards shared and persistent AR experiences that are associated with physical locations. The “shared and persistent” part is important, as it lets users anchor AR experiences to a location — viewable across sessions and between users.
These are the core tenets of the AR Cloud, as noted. With the goal of AR that “just works,” the AR Cloud involves spatial maps and other data that devices can tap into. Because spatial maps for the inhabitable earth are too big to fit on one device, the AR cloud delivers them on demand.
Tech giants are building disparate AR clouds to power their respective local AR products. Google uses Street View imagery as an object-recognition database to localize devices. Facebook is building Live Maps, and Niantic crowdsources spatial maps in its Real World Platform.
Snapchat hopes to similarly use data from existing and ongoing Snaps that happen in specific locations. This is meant to form a sort of location database that will feed into its Local Lenses. That way, users can pull out their phones to create or discover AR content where they’re standing.
The goal is to give users the ability to leave persistent AR graphics on local spots. The use case that Snap has promoted is more about fun and whimsy, including painting streets and buildings with digital graffiti. But it could evolve into commerce-based use cases like storefront UGC.
Next on the list of Snapchat local commerce ambitions is Snap Map. Once used for social discovery, it now has a commerce-oriented outcome: business listings. In other words, Snap Maps’ 200 million users can now search and discover local businesses using the same tool.
This brings a local search use case to Snapchat. Sort of like Apple’s forays into local search and mapping, Snap will rely on third-party partners for listings data such as Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Uber Eats, etc.. But most notably — and like Niantic — it will offer self-serve SMB advertising.
Snap Map’s local monetization success will hinge on whether or not Snapchat users are interested in local search, including offline transactional intent. If so, this could be a powerful new competitor in local search, especially among Snapchat’s commercially attractive Millennial and Gen-Z users.
In fact, Snap has more 13-34-year-olds than any other channel, including Instagram. Quantifying that value, Snap’s Alex Dao told me that Gen-Z has $323 million in direct purchasing power ($1.2 trillion in indirect influence), which will only grow as the generation phases into the workforce.
This means Snap can offer SMB’s incremental and non-duplicated reach to an attractive audience. If we pan back to Snap users of all ages, the engagement levels are likewise notable: Snapchat users create 4 billion snaps per day, and the most engaged users activate AR lenses 30x per day.
And that’s where AR comes back into the picture. Though much of the above happens outside of AR, Snapchat users who visit local businesses could subsequently activate lenses in and around their locations. That could involve local lenses or other AR formats Snap continues to roll out.
Mini Functions and ML
Moving on to the next piece of evidence in Snap’s local commerce master plan, it recently launched Snap Minis. These HTML 5-based apps will live in Snapchat’s Chat section and include micro-functionality like casual games and utilities. It’s similar in concept to Apple’s AppClips.
Launch partners include Coachella (coordinate and plan a festival experience); Headspace (launch meditation sessions and send to friends); and Movie Tickets by Atom (choose showtimes, watch trailers, buy tickets) — collectively demonstrating a wide range of potential use cases.
With that in mind, Minis could be developed to discover, plan, and transact local activities such as dining out. The model here is what WeChat has done in China. It’s similarly a chat-based app that’s become a launchpad for micro-apps and transactional features for local commerce.
Along the same lines, Snap ML lets developers import their own machine learning. Launch partners include Wannabe shoe try-ons and Prisma’s artistic selfie renderings but could evolve into lots of local search and commerce use cases that tap into Snapchat’s Scan tool.
So like Google Lens, this could identify local storefronts. With a training set of local imagery, an ML-fueled tool could allow Snapchat users to point their phones at a restaurant to get business info or user-generated content, then reserve a table or invite friends via mini-apps.
Of course, this is all speculative in terms of Snap’s intentions. And the current state of the world isn’t very conducive to local offline commerce. But it’s also possible that, while Snapchat Lenses are inflecting among shelter-in-place masses, Snap is planting seeds for local commerce’s return.