The camera is becoming an even mightier shopping tool for retail in general, and specifically for Snap Inc., which is partnering with Amazon on a test for a new visual search feature.
Users will be able to point their lenses at items or barcodes in the real world, and the system will find the product or similar ones in the Amazon marketplace. Choosing one sends the user to the Amazon app, if it’s already installed on the phone, or Amazon.com on the mobile web for the transaction.
The news, revealed Monday, follows Snap-Amazon rumors that circulated this summer, after bits of code in Snapchat’s Android app described the partnership and functionality.
According to a Snap spokeswoman, the company sees smartphone cameras going beyond capturing pics to “talking with pictures,” providing entertainment and exploring the world. The thinking is to extend those powers, turning the Snapchat camera into a sort of cursor that helps people see, scan and shop more easily.
It’s the same premise taken up by others including Pinterest, which offers a similar Lens feature for shopping, and tech giants like Google, whose “Lens” feature can call up information on objects and structures in the camera’s view. Likewise, Amazon’s app already includes a snap-to-search camera feature.
It’s not evident whether the test includes the whole Amazon marketplace, or merely select categories and products, such as Under Armour’s HOVR shoe and Cover Girl’s matte liquid makeup, both of which are part of the test. Either way, the e-tailer will likely benefit from the arrangement, at least to some degree.
For Snap, however, the partnership may be more critical.
It’s been a tumultuous year for the ephemeral photo-sharing app, particularly with the constant comparisons to rival Instagram. The Facebook-owned Instagram has been pursuing shopping, building off the momentum of its 400 million daily active users for Stories alone. Meanwhile, during Snap’s second-quarter earnings call in August, the platform reported that its daily active user base shrank, going from 191 million in the first quarter to 188 million.
In other words, to stop hemorrhaging users and stave off pressure from one of the world’s largest tech companies, Snap needs the kind of muscle that only another tech titan could provide. Turning to Amazon, the second company to ever hit a trillion-dollar valuation, could be a savvy move. But ultimately, consumers will have the last say.
Beyond the Snapchat universe, the news looks like more evidence that mobile shopping is not only expanding, but evolving.
“I think visual search is one of the most important developments for retailers since the emergence of Product Listing Ads (or PLAs),” said Holland Dauterive, director of professional services at Conductor, a marketing firm powered by content intelligence technology. “While consumers have gotten very good at using traditional search to find what they’re looking for, visual search is the next best thing to the traditional in-store browsing experience.
“If you’re able to provide your customers with what they’re looking for — or in this case, looking at — expect an overall increase in both the number and the time to conversion,” she said.
Snapchat’s Amazon-fueled visual search will start rolling out this week for a limited number of U.S. users.