See, snap, sale. In a rare partnership for Amazon, the commerce giant will help Snapchat challenge Instagram and Pinterest for social shopping supremacy. Today Snapchat announced it’s slowly rolling out a new visual product search feature, confirming TechCrunch’s July scoop about this project, codenamed “Eagle.”
Users can use Snapchat’s camera to scan a physical object or barcode, which brings up a card showing that item and similar ones along with their title, price, thumbnail image, average review score and Prime availability. When they tap on one, they’ll be sent to Amazon’s app or site to buy it. Snapchat determines if you’re scanning a song, QR Snapcode or object, and then Amazon’s machine vision tech recognizes logos, artwork, package covers or other unique identifying marks to find the product. It’s rolling out to a small percentage of U.S. users first before Snap considers other countries.
Snap refused to disclose any financial terms of the partnership. It could be earning a referral fee for each thing you buy from Amazon, or it could just be doing the legwork for free in exchange for added utility. A Snapchat spokesperson tells me the latter is the motivation (without ruling out the former), as Snapchat wants its camera to become the new cursor — your point of interface between the real and digital worlds.
Social commerce is heating up as Instagram launches Shopping tags in Stories and a dedicated Shopping channel in Explore, while Pinterest opens up Shop the Look pins and hits 250 million monthly users. The feature should mesh well with Snap’s young and culture-obsessed audience. In the U.S., its users are 20 percent more likely to have made a mobile purchase than non-users, and 60 percent more likely to make impulse purchases according to studies by Murphy Research and GfK.
The feature functions similarly to Pinterest’s Lens visual search tool. In the video demo above, you can see Snapchat identifying Under Armour’s HOVR shoe (amongst all its other models), and the barcode for CoverGirl’s clean matte liquid makeup. That matches our scoop based on code dug out of Snapchat’s Android app by TechCrunch tipster Ishan Agarwal. Snapchat’s shares popped three percent the day we published that scoop, and again this morning before falling back to half that gain.
The feature could prove useful for when you don’t know the name of the product you’re looking at, as with shoes. That could turn visual search into a new form of word-of-mouth marketing where every time an owner shows off a product, they’re effectively erecting a billboard for it. Eventually, visual search could help users shop across language barriers.
Amazon is clearly warming up to social partnerships, recognizing its inadequacy in that department. Along with being named Snapchat’s official search partner, it’s also going to be bringing Alexa voice control to Facebook’s Portal video chat screen, which is reportedly debuting this week according to Cheddar’s Alex Heath.
Snapchat could use the help. It’s now losing users and money, down from 191 million to 188 million daily active users last quarter while burning $353 million. Partnering instead of trying to build all its technology in-house could help reduce that financial loss, while added utility could aid with user growth. And if Snap can convince advertisers, they might pay to educate people on how to scan their products with Snapchat.
Snap keeps saying it wants to be a “Camera Company,” but it’s really an augmented reality software layer through which to see the world. The question will be whether it can change our behavior so that when we see something special, we interact with it through the camera, not just capture it.