Google Glass, if you haven’t heard much about it yet, 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, some claim, Google Glass means that you don’t have to look down at the screen on your phone 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.
We like being able to conceal our mobiles in our pockets or drop our laptop or tablet into a bag, we don’t like wearing these technologies and having a screen projected constantly on our face. 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.
While a lot of the functions I see of Google Glass just won’t work for ecommerce, there may be potential with it that could evolve over time.
While wearable technology fashions may not yet have lasted, Google Glass may win people over because it is portable and transferable to wear it to any occasion, and it is a practical device that is worn like glasses.
We are used to mobile phones and tablets and like how they can be transferred to any pocket or bag, so there is no need to put them into clothing. Screens on glasses may make a more convenient screen, so that may be sustainable.
Perhaps the best answer though is a Bluetooth screen in glasses attached to an iPhone.
The customer may get irritated by a stream of special offers pumping into their view with Google Glass, but they might be interested in virtual signposting to a specific product in store, or rapid comparison on price.
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.
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 Apple stores and wishes they had such great temples to the brand.
If I was Google, I would open up cool Google stores with coffee shops, at busy urban areas around the globe, because they would be cool and people would prefer them to Starbucks.
Now that Google has a tangible gadget product like Google Glass to sell, as opposed to the mainly online offerings, it could start developing a high street presence for the brand that it has not cracked to date.
Let’s be positive and consider five ecommerce possibilities for Google Glass:
1. Image recognition
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. Comparison shopping
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. Location-based targeting
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.
Location-based messages will not be as annoying as random, constant advertisements being broadcast onto a Google Glass screen when you are nowhere near the shop. But keep in mind that push notification is nothing new, as it was proposed when mobile first introduced text messages, WAP, 3G and now tablets.
Experiments to date have not been very impactful. My answer for the last 15 years has been the same. Can you imagine walking down Oxford Street and every three to five seconds a different message appearing in front of you?
As long as retailers don’t overdo it, it could be helpful to consumers. Google Glass also has the advantage of being mounted on your face, so you do not have to look down as you are walking along the high street.
So people will do more or less the same things in retail with Google Glass that they do now with smartphones. They’ll be comparing prices, comparing different models, or sending a picture to a friend asking, “Will I look good in this?”
Used in conjunction with Google Wallet, a Google Glass user could facilitate online payments for merchandise.
5. QR codes / direct links
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 these 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.
And what of the distant future hold say 30 years from now? Some futurists predict that information chips will be embedded into our bodies, rather than used as wearable devices. In the future, Google Glass may be old-fashioned technology!
What do you think about Google Glass? Is it a new chapter for ecommerce, or is it a total fail? I look forward to seeing your comments.