Shopper Experience

Google launches augmented reality shopping tools

The search features are designed to help users find the right foundation shade, and get a better look at sneakers.

google in neon lights
Shades of Google. (Photo by Sascha Bosshard on Unsplash)

Google is continuing to introduce more visual tools to search, as it seeks to help shoppers get a better look at products before they choose to buy them.

This week, the company issued a pair of releases that harness augmented reality, which uses digital tools to enhance a physical view. Virtual try-on features that use augmented reality have been proliferating lately across ecommerce, and some believe they will eventually be table stakes for an online shopping experience. With new tools designed to match foundation shades and get a better look at sneakers, it's becoming clear that Google views AR as a means to provide views and details for shoppers so that they shoppers can only find an item they like, but locate the variation of the product that is right for them.

Let’s take a look:

​Find your foundation shade

In the makeup category, Google says foundation is the most-searched category.

“It’s also one of the most personal products you can buy — the slightest change in color or tone can make a big difference,” writes Danielle Buckley, the company's director of product for consumer shopping. “But photos of foundation on models don’t always reflect the diversity of shoppers, and other times, you can only find images of the product’s packaging.”

Shade matters. Google research reports that 60% of shoppers have decided not to purchase an item online because they didn’t know what color or shade to choose, and 41% have returned an item because it was the wrong shade.

In an effort to assist with finding the right shade, Google has a new augmented reality feature that is designed to help users find a match through visualization. It includes a photo library featuring 148 models that represent a “diverse spectrum of skin tones, ages, genders, face shapes, ethnicities and skin types,” Google states.

Users can search for a foundation shade across price ranges and brands. Then, they will be shown what that foundation looks like on models with similar skin tones, including before and after shots. Once they pick a foundation, they can purchase through the retailer.

​Shop for sneakers

Another feature introduced this week will apply augmented reality to sneaker shopping. Google will display sneakers in a format in which users can spin around them and zoom. At home, users can also hold up a phone to see the sneakers in their space.

The idea is to provide a closer and more well-rounded view of the kicks, so that users can see if details like laces and soles match their style.

Brands including Saucony, VANS and Merrell are now available for try-on, with more expected to be added.

A reason? Engagement with 3D images is 50% higher than static photos. Google is also continuing to develop 3D spins of shoes, which it previously announced.

The Current's view: Building blocks

A looming question surrounding augmented reality is whether it can become a one-to-one stand-in for the experience of in-person shopping. Google’s announcement suggests that it is more of a supplement at this point.

“There's no replacing the feeling of visiting your favorite store,” the company writes. “But for the days you just can’t make it there, these features can help bring that experience to you.”

That may be a bit of a hedge based on the stage of the technology. The foundation library is a great resource, but doesn’t seem ready to replace the act of putting foundation on in front of a mirror just yet. Likewise, the ability to view sneakers from many angles will help make decisions, but still can’t replicate the feel of the shoes once you put them on. Viewing sneakers in one's space also doesn't appear to have the same value of applying that capability to, say, a couch.

Yet with these releases, Google is sending a signal here that it believes AR is important, and showing how it is making progress. They're probably best viewed as laying the groundwork for future advances, even as they may provide some incremental improvements to return rates in the meantime.

What’s more notable from a high level is that it shows how Google continues to center commerce. The company has made significant moves to integrate shopping more directly into the overall search experience this year, and provide more features that put its capability to catalog massive amounts of information from the internet in service of helping people find products. The AR releases are just the latest example of how shopping is a core use case for new search technology. In other recent rollouts, Google has:

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