For those of you who haven’t heard much about it yet, Google Glass is a wearable computer that looks like a pair of futuristic sunglasses. You can use it like your smartphone to get directions, check flight information or any other task that you might ask a computer to do. While some hail it as being the device of the future, I wonder what the purpose of it is, and whether it is a good new opportunity for ecommerce.
Where Google Glass falls down first for ecommerce, is in offering the same old promotional ideas that we’ve all tried and abandoned. Just like when text messaging was new, retailers tried to use push notification messages to reach us as we passed by stores along the high street, and it didn’t work. Now, Google Glass promises the same approach, but do you really want to be bombarded with promotional messages as you walk down the street? I don’t.
Unlike mobile however, Google Glass doesn’t require you to look down at a screen to find out information, but is this really a benefit we care about? I have watched wearable technology trends come and go, including t-shirts embedded with LEDs, and mobiles built into jackets. Once, I even saw a pair of jeans with a keyboard embedded in them. All of these fads have come and gone because they are just gimmicks. In order for Google Glass to be a sustainable wearable technology it has to be cool beyond having just a few early adopters wearing it.
Currently a lot of Google Glass functions don’t work for e-commerce. However, there may be potential that could evolve over time. Google Glass may yet win people over because it is portable and transferable to wear to any occasion. Glasses may make a more convenient screen making it sustainable and while customers may get irritated by a stream of special offers pumping into their view, they might be interested in virtual signposting to a specific product in store, or rapid comparison on price.
Google is also suggesting that it may open some stores to sell Google Glass in order to allow people to try them out. Google probably looks at Mac stores and wishes they had such great temples to their brand. Now that Google has a tangible gadget product like Google Glass to sell, as opposed to their mainly online offerings, they could start developing a high street presence for their brand that they have not cracked to date. However we will have to wait until the hype is over and ask a few regular users what they want or what works. Second-mover advantage might be significant in the development of useful retail tools.
Let’s be positive and consider five ecommerce possibilities that can happen with Google Glass:
1) You can use the image recognition software to take a picture with Google Glass, and show information about a product, pricing and the offer to order it online, for instance, through Amazon.
2) Google Glass can be used for comparison-shopping, by identifying a product in a shop, and then researching options for the best price available (see price image).
3) If retail stores use push notification, they should make sure that these messages only show up as pop-up messages to the Google Glass user, as they are passing by the shop, and that they only do it once, not multiple times. You could get invites into the store for discount offers or special sales. As long as these messages are location-based, then the message has context for being worthwhile and can be a powerful opportunity for retailers.
4) Used in conjunction with Google Wallet, a Google Glass user could facilitate online payments for merchandise.
5) Advertisers that use QR codes could have Google Glass users directed to a website for a product, or promotion, where the product can be purchased.
The above five possibilities are great for Google Glass, but I urge Google to be cautious about aspects of consumer behaviour.
You are not likely to pull out your credit card and be easily able to input all the details to order something online. Ecommerce activity with Google Glass is more likely to happen with your Amazon account, as all the details will be pre-registered, or with use of Google Wallet, again having the details needed pre-registered.
At current prices of $1,500, there will be a high entry barrier for most consumers, with only the most cutting-edge of early adopters using the product over the next few years. It may not be mainstream enough usage for most retailers.
I do not see much more customisation experience with Google Glass, than smartphones currently provide. However, in our print-on-demand business for brands, celebrities and organisations, we have an advantage because many consumers notice when someone is wearing an unusual t-shirt designs, and they are often inspired to find out more about the design. I get stopped in the street regularly and asked about the t-shirt I am wearing. Normally most consumers are not brave enough to ask someone where that shirt came from, so in the future they may use their Google Glasses to look up the design and where it comes from.
What does the distant future hold, say 30 years from now? Well some futurists predict that information chips will be embedded into our bodies, rather than used as wearable devices. Google Glass may in fact be old-fashioned technology!
Philip Rooke is CEO of Spreadshirt. Follow him on Twitter @PhilipRooke