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“Spatial Commerce” is the Next Big Thing™

PLUS: Your car knows you’re having sex
September 7, 2023

Yes, futurists, there’s a deluge of Shopify news to cover. More on that in a later edition of The Senses. (Among others, their recent capitulation into a partnership with Amazon’s Buy With Prime program which, lollll, there are apparently six leadership lessons to be learned.)

Until then, let us venture into the brave new world of spatial commerce.

This week, Shopify President Harley Finkelstein held an AMA Twitter X Spaces alongside other Shopify execs discussing the future of “spatial commerce” at Shopify. (We grabbed the full transcript here.)

According to Shopify, spatial computing devices, (don’t call it VR) like Apple’s Vision Pro will create a new frontier to build immersive commerce experiences. Cited use cases from the AMA include:

  • Virtual Showrooms: Brands can create virtual showrooms where customers can explore and interact with their products in a 3D environment.
  • Augmented Reality Try-On: Spatial commerce enables customers to virtually try on products using augmented reality.
  • Brand Experiences: Brands can create immersive experiences that transport customers to different environments or scenarios. For example, customers can virtually explore a mountain landscape while interacting with outdoor gear products or experience a virtual store with unique ambiance and atmosphere.

It’s worth noting that you don’t need spatial computing to do any of the above. Your smartphone (and Roblox) have been providing these use cases for 5+ years.

In the AMA, we learned that Shopify founder Tobi Lütke was reportedly the fifth person to back the original Oculus Rift VR device on Kickstarter way back before Palmer Lucky’s company was acquired by Meta. The company’s commitment may be driven by leadership’s foresight; but may just as easily be a side quest rooted in prior biases. There are articles dating back to 2016 citing the Shopify founder’s excitement for VR.

Don’t get us wrong: commerce will be a keystone part of spatial computing adoption for consumers. Not because of the tech, but because wherever people commune, commerce coexists.

Our recent dive into Apple's Vision Pro highlighted the device's first practical use case: navigating to an eCommerce site. That site was designed by HumanNYC, a Shopify agency led by Rachael Yeager, a contributor to Future Commerce’s VISIONS: Volume IV.

It's telling that even in the realm of cutting-edge VR, the first instinct is to tether us back to the familiar world of online shopping. But, as Vision Pro's foray into this space shows, the medium is shifting. The screen isn't in our hands or on our desks; it's mere inches from our eyes, redefining our very perception of commerce — and according to Apple, at least for the future, that perception is a floating website window; not a virtual showroom full of 3D models of furniture.

Henry Jenkins, in his exploration of participatory culture, emphasized the power of interactivity and engagement. There's no denying that spatial commerce, with its blend of AR, VR, and generative AI, will offer a level of interactivity that's unparalleled. But at what cost?

Jenkins also spoke of the "collective intelligence" of communities. In this brave new world of shopping, where does the collective intelligence of the consumer community fit in? Are we moving towards a more individualistic, isolated shopping experience, masked by the illusion of interactivity?

The Vision Pro has a literal “reality dial.” Forget dark mode, what happens when customers are even more isolated from reality than they are today, with a physical dial to turn down the world around them?

The allure of new technology is undeniable. But as we stand at the crossroads of commerce, it's worth pondering: 

Are we truly enhancing the shopping experience, or are we merely replacing the tangible with the intangible, the real with the virtual, and the communal with the individual?

— Phillip

P.S. Marketing mythology is alive and well. Guest writer Matt Klein of ZINE joins us this week to bust an oft-repeated myth in the brand and consumer goods space. Read more in INSIDERS #154: BETTY CROCKER'S EGG IS A MYTH.

P.P.S. Holiday marketing looks a bit different these days. How do retailers prepare? By orienting us towards holiday shopping earlier and earlier. Listen to Episode #318 of the Future Commerce podcast with guest Meghan Stabler wherever podcasts are found, or right over here.

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