Like many emerging technologies, AR is feeling its way around and growing into its own skin. It’s not going to revolutionize everything, as once touted, but it will be meaningfully disruptive to several aspects of life and work. And with that comes business opportunity.
One of those opportunities showing early promise is AR shopping. It gives consumers more visual dimension when considering products, especially in eCommerce. This is developing from several companies, involving various flavors of product visualization on “spaces & faces.”
We’ll start with the company that’s become the front door to the web, and lots of shopping activity: Google. It has spent 20+ years as the internet’s launch point, including high-intent commercial searches. That has caused it to own a growing piece of consumer shopping.
But how does AR play in? Among other things, Google uses its influential position to incubate and expose AR. First, it offers AR-enabled search results that come to life in 3D. Second, it grants prime real estate (the Google homepage) to its visual search tool, Google Lens.
Let’s tackle these strategies one at a time…
Ten Blue Links
Starting with AR-enabled search results, Google continues to offer results pages (SERPs) that animate in 3D and AR. 3D is when searchers can spin a 3D graphic (often on desktop SERPs), while AR offers the same effect but overlaid in one’s space (on smartphones).
This has played out with topics that are conducive to visualization and in educational contexts, such as human skeletons or members of the animal kingdom. But the real endgame is monetizable searches (marketing & commerce) which is where Google Swirl enters the picture.
Google Swirl acts in the above ways, but specifically for advertisers to develop interactive search results. In early tests from Nissan to Adidas, campaigns show high engagement versus non-AR benchmarks, including engagement deltas as high as 6x above 2D benchmarks.
This is mostly in a brand marketing context, with user impressions as the objective. But the next step – back to the shopping theme – is transactional endpoints. As background, Google is separately evolving SERPs for more functionality and shoppability. AR now joins that effort.
All the above represents an ongoing evolution of the SERP from its “10 blue links” origins. After years of expanding the broader knowledge graph and dynamic SERPs, 3D and AR models are the next step. They’re also a way to future-proof search for a camera-forward era.
Speaking of future-proofing, Google Lens is a product that could represent an alternative search input that fuels Google’s continued growth. More search modalities — including voice and visual search — provide greater surface area for users to tap into Google.
Tying that back to the “incubation” play noted above, Google has accelerated Lens by giving it prime real estate on the main search bar in its mobile apps. Planted right next to the voice search button, this gives Lens more exposure than any product could ask for.
While it does that, Google is simultaneously beefing up Lens’ capabilities. It already recognizes 15 billion products – up 15x in two years. This taps into Google’s 20+ years of indexing media for Google Images to form an AI training set for visual object recognition.
And it appears to be gaining traction. Google announced at its June Search On event that Google Lens sees 8 billion searches per year. But more meaningful than sheer volume is the fact that these visual searches grew 2.5x in the 12 months prior to the announcement.
All the above represents orbiting parts in Google’s AR play. It knows it can utilize its massive scale to accelerate things. AR can in turn help Google future-proof search as noted. This makes Google’s AR incubation a virtuous cycle… We’ll see if that translates to dollars.
We’ll pause there and circle back in the next installment of this series to examine other tech giants establishing strategic positions at the intersection of AR and shopping. Meanwhile, see the full report here.