3 Examples of B2B2C Commerce in AR

I spend plenty of time in the AR world between daily writings and deeper analysis. Opportunities are often divided between consumer-based endpoints (think: Pokemon Go) and enterprise productivity (think: Microsoft Hololens). But what about the space between? We’re talking about the less sexy but equally opportune ‘B2B2C’ space.

This under-exposed AR sub-segment includes enabling tools that equip businesses to build and offer AR experiences to their customers. Under that umbrella are AR platforms such as Snap’s Lens Studio. It lowers friction for consumer brands to create AR lenses to promote themselves and interact with customers in novel ways.

Bringing it to the local level, B2B2C also includes tools that help SMBs better serve their customers in day-to-day operations. That’s everything from visualizing a kitchen remodel to troubleshooting your busted WiFi. To further illustrate AR’s SMB B2B2C opportunity (say that three times fast), here are three ways it’s playing out today.

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1. Houzz’s Renovation Planner. 

Houzz recently launched an AR feature that lets home service pros visually display finished products to customers in the spaces they’ll occupy. This involves life-sized floor plans that are digitally overlayed on physical spaces to help homeowners get a sense of the finished product and make design choices accordingly.

We’re talking walls, windows, cabinets, islands, and all the other design choices involved in such projects, including color and texture variants. Of course, visualizing products in one’s space isn’t new; it’s become a Covid-accelerated technology to get more IRL dimension when shopping online for everything from couches to cosmetics.

Houzz itself has even offered furniture visualization for years with its View in My Room 3D, but what’s different about its latest play is the ability to visualize entire floor plans. This lets it take a bite at entire renovation projects, letting home services pros and homeowners visualize final results on a room-by-room basis.

That brings us back to the virtues of B2B2B positioning. It’s a vessel to bring AR to mainstream consumers through the contractors, designers, and other home-service pros who are more motivated to adopt it. That can accelerate the go-to-market strategy of any AR tool that’s meant to end up in consumers’ hands.

As for that pro motivation, it stems from the potential for competitive differentiation. Home-services pros that offer AR visualization can gain an edge in their own marketing and customer interactions. Moreover, AR can help them achieve operational efficiencies, such as avoiding downstream headaches from having to re-do work.

In other words, visually-informed customer design decisions raise the probability of a happy end result. We’ve seen this concept demonstrated in e-commerce when AR reduces product returns due to a more confident initial purchase. Home renovation pros can now use AR to achieve a higher-stakes version of that principle.

2. Streem Remote Home Services

Streem similarly lets home services pros serve their customers through AR. It does so by bringing the industrial AR concept of live “see what I see” remote assistance to the world of customer support. Picture a cable company rep visually walking you through a router setup, versus disjointed and cumbersome voice-only guidance.

This also applies to home services like plumbing. Homeowners can be the eyes and ears of a remote pro, via upheld smartphone or tablet. The remote pro can then diagnose issues and, depending on the issue, instruct homeowners with voice and positionally-accurate on-screen annotations. All in all, it can reduce costly technician visits.

Streem has been able to accomplish this to the tune of 42% fewer visits. Otherwise known as a “truckroll,” this includes preliminary home visits to scope and price a given job. The result is cutting two visits down to one. And in less-invasive services like setting up your internet, it can mean cutting one visit down to zero.

The model has broad applicability to several potential home-oriented business verticals. In fact, Streem has recently expanded into real estate. The idea is that it can help real estate agents offer live virtual showings by appointment, where they walk homebuyers through a given house and answer their questions.

Underscoring the opportunity further, Streem’s value proposition is amplified in the Covid era by supporting socially-distanced home services. Even as the world returns to normal, Covid-19 has accelerated demand for remotely-fulfilled and operationally-efficient services. Pre-Covid expectations for all-things IRL have diminished.

Regardless of the service vertical, be it plumbing or internet (different types of tubes), Streem taps into a large addressable market, including psychographics that are comfortable with a smartphone but not technically savvy enough for DIY tech troubleshooting. Think of this as a sort of Geek Squad 2.0 for home services.

3. Niantic Sponsorship Program

Our third example is a bit of a departure, involving one of the most popular forms of consumer AR to date: Pokémon Go. The game’s maker Niantic has begun to diversify its revenue model beyond healthy in-app purchases to tap into local marketing. Its Sponsorship Platform lets local businesses pay to drive foot traffic to their doorsteps.

The way this works is that local businesses – including SMBs and multi-location brands – can position their real-world locations as in-game waypoints such as gyms and Pokéstops. They can then stimulate in-game raids by choosing when Pokémon hatch. They can even choose days and day parts to boost traffic (think: slow hours).

The key word is organic, says Niantic. Sponsorship isn’t contrived but rather aligned with gameplay. For example, it reports that 73 percent of players deviate from their regular walking routes – sometimes to sponsored locations – to achieve in-game milestones. 84 percent interacted with commercial locations and 58 percent transacted.

Moreover, players can work up a hunger through Pokemon Go’s migratory play, making sponsorship a natural fit for quick-serve restaurants, convenience stores, and coffee shops. It’s already been validated with brands like Circle K and 7-Eleven, which boosted revenue 10.5 percent through its Pokémon Go sponsorship campaign.

Beyond these ROI signals, there are benefits such as elevating brand sentiment. This happens as players associate brands with their positive experiences with the game — in some cases to fuel them for play. The bottom line is that AR is still young as a marketing vehicle and B2B2B tactic. We’ll see it continue to branch in several directions.

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Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at mikebo.land.