Is the future bright for e-commerce with wearable tech?

With wearables emerging as the top trend at CES 2014 and Google Glass being voted this year’s most innovative product in digital retail, it is hard to imagine that not so long ago, you may have been laughed at if you talked about technology devices that you could wear on your body.

While fitness devices make up the vast majority of the market at the moment. Devices are moving from niche applications and early adopters into much more mainstream products. Google Glass which was available only to a limited number of developers and handpicked recipients went on sale in the UK early this summer. And while some hail these devices as the future of technology, I wonder whether they provide a good new opportunity for e-commerce?

I have watched wearable technology trends come and go, including t-shirts embedded with LEDs, and mobiles built into jackets and the calculator watch of the 80s. Once, I even saw a pair of jeans with a keyboard embedded in them! All of these fads have come and gone because they were just gimmicks. In order for the likes of Google Glass and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear range to be a sustainable wearable technology they have to be cool beyond having just a few early adopters wearing it. And in my line of work, I like to see it be relevant to e-commerce.

Google Glass, in particular, needs to do more than offer 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 a similar approach, but do you really want promotional messages popping up 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? 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. 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 e-commerce possibilities that could 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.

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, and Samsung with its smartwatch, 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. E-commerce activity with Google Glass or Galaxy Gear 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.

Features have been added since initial launch but with prices around £1,000 for Google Glass, there is still 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 Spreadshirt’s 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 say 30 years from now? Some predict that information chips will be embedded into our bodies, rather than used as wearable devices. It is a little unnerving, but we may all be part-cyborg in a few decades time, and Google Glass and Samsung’s Gear range may be old-fashioned technology!

Philip Rooke is the CEO of Spreadshirt, the leading e-commerce platform that lets anyone create, sell and buy ideas on things consumers love to wear, use, and carry. Follow him on Twitter @PhilipRooke in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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