Everyone in the eCommerce industry (including me) is getting excited about the possibilities of wearable technology. It could be Google Glass, or whatever else developers dream up to take advantage of these newly emerging technologies such as Android Wear.
In my view there has to be a significant user benefit from having content delivered via a wearable device to make it worthwhile switching technologies from something that already delivers significant value to users.
Around the globe creative minds are buzzing with possible inventions to liberate us from having to pull out our smartphones and click or type instructions. We've seen all sorts of predictions for applications that might run on such devices and ways that consumers might use them - some ingenious and some slightly far-fetched.
For what it's worth here's my prediction: the future applications for wearable technology will be different and infinitely more varied than anyone is currently predicting. That's just the way things work out. Once the technology is in the hands of creative developers around the globe there's no way of knowing what will emerge. That's why working in eCommerce and mobile technology is endlessly fascinating.
The big challenges
Here's a second prediction: there will be no viable future for wearable technology unless we crack two big challenges. The first is to use the devices to deliver content to users that they value and has added value by being delivered on a wearable device.
The second is to develop eCommerce sites that are fully responsive - meeting the further challenges that displaying content on wearable devices will bring.
Much of the focus up to now has been on Google Glass. That was, until smart watches such as the LG G Watch, Samsung’s Gear LIve and the Moto360 that use Android Wear were unveiled at Google IO last night. The first two of these are available for pre-order from the Google Play Store and the Moto will launch later this summer.
There's also, naturally, a lot of focus on how businesses can use the technology to sell things. It appears that Google has even applied for a patent for ‘pay per gaze' advertising; you look at an advert when it flashes up and the advertiser pays Google a fee.
The big question I have is this: What's in it for the user?
Think for a moment about 3D TV and the fact that the BBC stopped making programmes for this format. The reason 3D hasn't taken off is that the user experience with existing HD was already very high. Most people seemed to judge that enhanced experience offered by 3D wasn't worth the extra cost or sitting in semi isolation in their lounge behind dark glasses.
Added value user experience
There's a risk that wearable technology could go the same way, unless website designers and marketers focus much more on consumers and the user experience. In my view there has to be a significant user benefit from having content delivered via a wearable device to make it worthwhile switching technologies from something that already delivers significant value to users. Let's face it, we're probably going to continue buying smartphones for some time.
It's clear though that there are fantastic possibilities, particularly for location based marketing. While this works reasonably well on smartphones it still relies on users having to get out their phones and do something. Google Glass would make this a more passive experience - things just flash into your line of sight rather than you having to do anything.
Similarly, something that looks like a normal watch face and switches automatically to display Google Now type information is potentially much more convenient. More reasons for businesses to pay attention to their Google Local presence and reviews!
There's also an opportunity with Google Glass to take showrooming to new levels without consumers having to contribute much to the process other than looking at something. Augmented reality too could be really powerful if it is activated just by looking at something.
But there's a danger of getting ahead of ourselves. A recent eConsultancy survey suggested that 55% of businesses now have a mobile optimised website. Or put another way, 45% still don't. And of the 55%, how many sites are notionally optimised (ie they look OK on a mobile) and how many have been thoroughly tested and refined to achieve the highest possible conversion rates? How would those mobile optimised sites work on Google Glass or a screen small enough to fit into a watch? Who knows?
A business decision
For businesses, developing eCommerce applications that are designed for wearable devices will only be worthwhile if they create new sales. It's a straightforward commercial decision and not likely to be influenced by ‘here's some cool technology, let's find a way of using it.'
We know that eCommerce sites currently have significantly lower conversion rates on smartphones compared to tablets and PCs. Sometimes this is due to lack of optimisation but we still see a difference even on fully responsive sites. It seems that there is still a reluctance to purchase online via a phone.
Google Glass and wearable devices have the additional drawback of not lending themselves terribly well to form filling. Unless you are logged into a site that already has your payment details, how would you make a purchase? And unless somebody can make a purchase, where's the value to the business of optimising a site for Google Glass? There are some big challenges in understanding and developing what a customer journey might look like with wearable technology.
Is rendering a traditional eCommerce site on a wearable device the best way forward at all, or should we be looking at smart apps that are activated by a combination of location and user preferences? Now that Google Glass has a web browser on board, making websites sufficiently responsive to work on Glass seems unavoidable but probably isn't the whole answer.
That said, do I think it will work? Yes! Are there exciting opportunities for new avenues of eCommerce opening up? Definitely! It's all a question of focusing (no pun intended) on how we deliver not just better, but game-changing, levels of value to the people wearing these devices.