Is Facebook commerce, 2011’s-next-big-thing-turned nonstarter, finally materializing?
The social network says it’s now “bridging the gap between what shoppers can do at home and in a store,” like virtually trying on Michael Kors sunglasses or testing out a Wayfair sofa in their living room, with the launch of augmented reality-enabled ads that it hopes will redefine shopping for the make-or-break holiday season, said Ty Ahmad-Taylor, vice president of business product marketing at Facebook’s holiday event in New York City this week.
Facebook has been working to crack the social-commerce nut for years. In 2011 it went as far as creating actual online storefronts with retailers like Express, which made everything in its then 600 stores available for purchase on Facebook.
It posited that shopping and paying for goods directly on the site would appeal to consumers who were loath to pry themselves away from the social network. The theory didn’t pan out.
Fast forward to 2018, as mobile “continues to take over the shopping experience and video consumption is skyrocketing” —via the Facebook owned Instagram Stories platform, for one — as a seminal consumer engagement and sales-driving tool, Ahmad-Taylor said.
Facebook is testing the AR mobile ads, which appear in its newsfeed, with retailers such as Wayfair, Pottery Barn, Michael Kors, Sephora and Bobbie Brown.
“The idea is to remove the number of steps between discovering [a product] and the ability to fulfill that purchase,” Eva Press, group lead for retail, CPG and healthcare for Facebook, told me after the event.
Press says Facebook has been inching toward serving as a path to purchase for retailers with features like “call to action” buttons (“buy buttons” in an earlier iteration), and dynamic ads that pop up in users’ mobile newsfeeds that are personalized to them.
Facebook says it serves over 1.7 billion impressions of ads that connect relevant product to people on a daily basis.
And more than 50% of app ad spending on the site, including by retailers, reflects video usage. “This is notable, because app advertisers are among the most diligent in tracking return on investment,” a corporate communications spokesperson told me.
Facebook is looking to capitalize on consumers’ growing appetite for video with ads that use shoppers’ smartphone cameras to place an AR version of the advertised object onto their video image, like makeup or sunglasses, or into their living space.
The feature is a mechanism for personalization, the holy grail of retail these days, as consumers increasingly expect shopping experiences crafted for them and them alone — particularly on a mobile device, Press said. Smartphones reflect consumers’ curated digital worlds, from their apps to home-screen settings, so “there’s the expectation that the content they see from ads on mobile devices will be customized for them.”
Facebook theorizes the augmented reality ads will elevate digital shopping by helping consumers experience how a product works in their lives, while also serving as “a really valuable tool for a lot of our [retail] partners… who are looking for ways to create more immersive experiences for consumers,” she said.
Working To Redefine The Furniture Sale Via AR
While the ability try on 20 pairs of sunglasses from a smartphone screen adds a nifty element of convenience, AR goes further with larger home goods by addressing a problem endemic to buying furniture: You can physically try on 20 sunglasses, but you can’t logistically test how 20 settees will look and fit in your living room.
Indeed, while 44% of shoppers would like to use AR to try on clothes, more consumers, 58%, crave the ability to use AR to see how something looks in their house before buying, according to data from GPShopper. That’s why retailers like IKEA, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s and Wayfair, the nation’s biggest online furniture retailer, are investing heavily in AR to sell home goods.
Wayfair is already going all out when it comes to AR. It’s working to bring all of its 10,000 product images to 3D life via platforms like its View in Room 3D mobile app, which enables shoppers to see virtual furniture and home décor in their own homes at accurate scale and from a variety of angles — prior to committing to buying.
Now “Facebook AR ads will allow us to stand out in the newsfeed and make meaningful connections with our customers as they discover and interact with their favorite products and engage with our brand in a new and compelling way,” Jess Jacobs, director of marketing, of Wayfair, told me.