Snap buys another company to make AR shopping a reality

Snap is making a big bet on AR shopping.

The parent company of Snapchat has bought Vertebrae, a company that lets brands create and manage 3D versions of their goods. Vertebrae’s 50-person team will keep developing the platform for existing and new clients, according to a Snap spokesperson. The idea is that a company can easily upload visuals and other information about an item into Vertebrae and have a 3D version made for shoppers to access, and potentially buy directly, within Snapchat.

While Snap first used its augmented reality tech for silly effects like puking rainbows and dancing hotdogs, the company increasingly sees AR as a way to shop. Early tests of AR shopping experiences, such as a recent collaboration with Gucci to let people virtually try on a pair of limited-edition sneakers, have shown Snap that people are more likely to buy something after they interact with it in 3D.

“We’re thrilled to join Snap, where we will strengthen and scale our world class 3D asset platform for retailers and brands,” Vertebrae CEO Vince Cacace said in an exclusive statement to The Verge. “The future of AR commerce is bright, and we’ll continue to make it easy for our partners to create, manage, and deploy AR experiences across all customer touch points.”

Vertebrae’s interface for brands.
Image: Vertebrae

Snap declined to say how much it paid for Vertebrae, but the deal was likely small relative to its $500 million acquisition of WaveOptics, which makes the AR displays in its Spectacles smart glasses. Vertebrae raised about $10 million in venture funding to date. It lists Toyota, Adidas, CB2, and other well-known brands as clients on its website. It also worked with Facebook — Snap’s biggest competitor — on AR shopping tech in 2019.

When you piece together Vertebrae with Snap’s other shopping-related acquisitions and features, including Fit Analytics and Screenshop, it’s easier to get a sense of its ambitions to be a shopping destination. For brands, the company is setting up a self-service system to easily upload and manage AR versions of their goods that people can discover in Snapchat. For Snapchat users, imagine being able to scan just about anything in the real world and turn it into a virtual object that you can manipulate, resize, and then buy without leaving the app.

If people really take to AR shopping with their phones, it will make Snapchat more of a utility in the near term while also making its ads more effective, since someone’s purchases are a strong indicator of other items they’d be interested in. And looking beyond smartphones, AR shopping is more compelling in a future world when more people are potentially wearing smart glasses with displays in them, such as Snap’s latest Spectacles.