While Facebook takes a big leap into eCommerce with its new Shop options for both Facebook and Instagram, it's also working on a range of more advanced AR and AI-based tools to improve the online shopping experience.
This week, The Social Network has outlined some of its evolving digital shopping tools, which are designed to make product recommendations more personalized, and address limitations in virtual product assessment.
First off, Facebook's testing out a new 3D-like option which enables Marketplace sellers to provide a full view of their items within their listings.
As explained by Facebook:
"We’re introducing Rotating View, a state-of-the-art 3D-like photo capability that allows anyone with a camera on their phone to capture multi-dimensional panoramic views of their listings on Marketplace. This feature allows any seller with a camera phone to turn regular 2D video into a 3D-like interactive view. We’ve started testing this feature on Marketplace for iOS Sellers to start."
One of the key challenges in not being able to physically view and hold an item is that you don't know what you're getting, and while questionable online shopping experiences have left many regular buyers helpfully skeptical, there are still challenges in ensuring that you're getting what you're agreeing to pay for. 3D visuals can help with this, showing any potential flaws or issues that you might not get with a selectively angled image.
Also on Marketplace, Facebook's using a new, machine-learning based system to help sellers better tag their items.
"This new system, called GrokNet, automatically suggests attributes such as colors and materials when sellers upload a photo of an item for sale on Marketplace, which makes posting a listing much easier. And on the buyer’s side, predicted detailed descriptions provided by [the] system allow you to search Marketplace not just for black chairs, for example, but specifically for a black leather sectional sofa - even if the seller didn’t explicitly add those details to the description."
GrokNet can also automatically provide product tag suggestions for Facebook Pages, which could help businesses using the new Shop option to maximize discovery of their items.
"When Page admins upload a photo, GrokNet can suggest potential products to tag by visually matching between items in the photo and the Page's product catalog."
That's somewhat similar to Pinterest's object identification tools, which can pinpoint specific items in an image to use for search and discovery across the platform - though Facebook's system is more specifically aligned to the products uploaded by that Page.
That could make it easier to generate interest in your offerings - simply upload a photo with your products in it, as you normally would, and Facebook's system will tag the products you have listed, and facilitate direct connection to those listings in your shop.
The process is currently in testing.
Looking even further ahead, Facebook is also testing new, AI-based tools that will be able to learn what style of clothing you prefer based on your existing wardrobe, then make product recommendations based on this.
"[We're] prototyping an intelligent digital closet, which lets you take photos of your outfits and digitize each item within seconds. The digital closet can provide not only outfit suggestions based on planned activities or weather but also fashion inspiration based on products and styles that you like, so you can shop in the context of what you already own."
That, also, sounds similar to Pinterest's 'Shop the Look' Pins, which identify items to buy based on a photo - but again, Facebook's system is a little different. In this instance, Facebook's process is looking to utilize advanced matching systems to improve relevant discovery based on your existing wardrobe preferences, as opposed to what might look good on a model in an image.
Facebook also says that it's working on developing new AR try-on type tools for products, which enable users to see how they look in, for example, branded sunglasses based on an ad or Page visit.
Instagram started testing these AR ads with selected partner brands late last year, and Facebook says that it's looking to expand on this "to support more businesses and products in the future".
The key to all of this, of course, is simplicity. Facebook shopping won't work if it's difficult for merchants to upload their product catalogs, on-platform buying won't work if the experience isn't great, and convenient, for consumers. Facebook knows this, which is why it's taken so long to make the next leap into broader eCommerce offerings.
Enabling on-platform buying makes sense, but if it's not easy, on all sides, it will clutter Facebook and Instagram, and potentially turn users away due to over-commercialization.
But if Facebook can get it right, it could be huge - and these new tools in testing point to the next phase of that shift, when eCommerce becomes a more integrated, intelligent way to shop.