The average Android user spends 53 minutes per day on Instagram. Add in the time spent on Facebook, Pinterest and other platforms, and consumers are scrolling past thousands of images and videos daily. When it comes time to actually purchase something they spotted on social media or video feeds, though, the experience is rarely friction-free.
Buyers looking for the blue dress Gemma Chan wore at the 2019 Golden Globes, for instance, would be lucky to find the same one or something similar online. They would need to determine which dress she wore, figure out where it was sold, find a legitimate seller, purchase it and then wait for it to arrive. This process can seem cumbersome for consumers used to easy shopping experiences.
Some firms are tackling this friction-filled process, however. New York-based company TheTake.AI is seeking to clear these obstacles with an artificial intelligence (AI)- and machine learning (ML)-based solution that boils the experience down to a single click. The company enables contextual commerce experiences for eTailers, integrating the buying experience right onto a user’s laptop screen.
“People see this now on Instagram,” CEO Ty Cooper said during a recent interview with PYMNTS, referring to shoppable posts with product tags. “They’re seeing it on other digital products where people can shop through image. So, from that, consumers are starting to think about shopping in this manner. Whether it’s the TV executives or the [original equipment manufacturers, different industries are] looking at this and saying, ‘This is something that’s of the moment.’”
TheTake relies on AI, neural networks and other solutions to thread shoppable products directly into video content, and Cooper said the technology used to create these contextual commerce experiences is finally advanced enough to cater to consumers’ needs.
Contextual Commerce and New Technologies
From consumers’ perspectives, TheTake’s purchasing experiences are fairly simple. Users can view products featured in movies or shows on their laptops. They can then click on a product and be directly routed to a retailer’s website to purchase the item with one click. This mirrors how they already shop on Instagram or other online platforms. TheTake currently powers this experience through web-based video content, though it is also working to bring its offering to television.
Cooper told PYMNTS that enabling contextual shopping via TV requires screens that can process the amount of data necessary to create viable experiences, as well as software that can accurately distinguish between similar items. He said the company has promoted this by working with a database featuring millions of images to hone these capabilities.
“[We] built a handful of neural networks and ML networks from the ground up. We trained those networks on our own hand-curated data sets of products that we identified manually,” he said. “Then, [the networks] leverage that information to begin to develop their own notion of what is similar between an item on-screen and an item in our database.”
TheTake’s neural networks tag 500 separate products per TV episode and about 2,000 products per movie, Cooper stated, adding that these solutions operate at levels far beyond their previous capabilities.
“We’re also working with a few different smart TV manufacturers right now to [feed] this technology directly into their televisions. In that instance, you’d have to [point and click] with your remote,” Cooper said. He said the company was developing voice technology to assist in the transactions.
The company has launched several pilot programs and options for consumers who want to experience contextual commerce, including a demo with Samsung last year as part of the company’s booth at CES 2018. The demo involved both a Samsung TV and a Samsung mobile phone, using the TheTake’s technology to highlight the clothes actors were wearing during a TV episode for easy buying. Cooper could not comment on potential commercial applications that may arise from this demo.
The company also used its technology for an offering on the Golf Channel during the 2018 PGA Tour. Cooper admitted that it will take some time for customers to get accustomed to shopping through their TV screens, however.
Educating Consumers on How to Shop
While Cooper said TheTake’s pilots and demos have seen “pretty significant” consumer engagement, he mentioned that one of the challenges confronting contextual commerce is customer education. Modern consumers are sensitive to unexpected, in-your-face advertising. Platforms like Instagram, for instance, must seamlessly weave retail experiences into their feeds, while TV shows and movies must ensure their offerings aren’t intrusive to viewers.
“We’ve also had to fight [to educate] our users that the possibility is even there to use this type of service,” he said. “[We’re] educating them that this feature is available, but [we’re] also not making it intrusive, not making it feel like an advertisement.”
Educating consumers on contextual commerce’s exact capabilities can be tricky, however, as Cooper said the ecosystem “is not something that’s simple by any means.” The channels through which customers can and do purchase goods are constantly changing, and the development of new technologies and tools will lead to more shifts in the future.
The Future of Contextual Commerce in a Connected World
The potential use cases for contextual commerce will grow as customers become accustomed to these buying experiences. Developers could employ a variety of technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), to advance these solutions further, Cooper said. While TheTake isn’t offering AR yet, the company is focused on streamlining and simplifying customers’ experiences.
“We’re working with a couple of our partners on just integrating a universal card solution where you can just purchase it through that platform without having to navigate out through the retailers’ websites … that’s definitely coming in the not-to-distant future,” he said.
Contextual commerce is rapidly advancing. With yearly developments in the tools and technologies that power these experiences, the space is set for continued growth in the future.