Snapchat Opens A Store–And Takes Aim At A Trillion-Dollar Industry

The social media company is looking at e-commerce as its next big revenue channel, and it’s starting with some brand-new Jordans.

Snap had limited success selling its own Spectacles glasses, despite releasing special kiosks in cities across the world to launch them. But maybe the company will have more luck with sneakers: tonight at an NBA All-Star event in downtown Los Angeles, Snap began selling Jordan brand shoes within Snapchat. It’s part of a new plan that could one day make Snap a sizable competitor in the $3 trillion world of e-commerce.


[Image: courtesy Snap Inc.]
“When we look at doing digital marketing, we really want to make sure we engage the community with something the consumer has never seen before,” says Dan Harbison, Global Sr. Director of Digital at the Jordan brand. “Looking at what the list is from a technological standpoint, augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality have been out there for a couple years. But we wanted to make sure we did it with purpose, and did it meaningfully.”

For the Jordan brand, creating that moment came in two parts. First, the company worked with Snap and R/GA to build a custom World Lens to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of Michael Jordan’s legendary free throw line dunk. Using a highly detailed player model that was actually sculpted for the NBA2K video game, Snap users around L.A.–or those who spotted the lens’s QR code on social media–can pull up a life-sized augmented reality experience in which a 6’6″ Michael Jordan, complete with his sinewy, 1988 frame, is flying four feet off the ground toward the hoop. Since he’s floating in real space, you can even walk through this moment you’ve seen played back countless times in sports history.

Tap the screen, and Jordan becomes a black and white photograph. Look closely, and you also notice he’s changed, too–now wearing an All-Star uniform, and a new pair of kicks. Those shoes are the unreleased AJ III Tinker, set to come out in March.

However, the Jordan brand wanted to be able to not just commemorate the moment, but turn it into a unique sneaker drop. So tonight, at a concert it threw in downtown L.A., the company revealed a special QR code on a basketball backboard. Customers who scanned that were brought to a store right inside Snapchat, which allowed them to buy those AJ III Tinkers immediately. As an added bonus, many of the shoes purchased this evening should arrive this evening, too. Jordan is using its local, L.A. distribution center, in conjunction with its partner Darkstore, to get them to customers right away.

“We’re really excited, because the delivery will happen by 10:30,” says Harbison. “When the kid comes home, they’ll have the shoe waiting for them.”

In other words, Jordan and Snap have teamed up to create a sort of half-analog, half-digital pop-up shop that promises the immediate gratification of Amazon Prime same-day delivery.


[Image: courtesy Snap Inc.]
It’s a first for Jordan, and it’s a first for Snap, too. Formerly, Snapchat has offered an integrated e-commerce Snap Store, powered by Shopify, to sell a few of its own-branded merchandise items, like dancing hot dog costumes. But this was really just novelty testing done for superfans of the platform.

With Jordan, Snap is dipping its toe into the possibility of monetizing just about anything via app-integrated sales channels. Snap openly classifies itself a camera company, rather than a social media app. That’s why it’s explored products like Spectacles, which turned sunglasses into a video camera. And while right now, Snap is only selling one limited edition sneaker drop for Jordan through a live event, it’s easy to imagine Snap leveraging the close relationship that its 187 million daily active users have with its camera to any number of third-party brand partners. Maybe that means brands will release more limited edition QR codes in the wild for you to discover on Snap, and Snap takes a cut of each sale. Or maybe that means Snap could make a play similar to what Pinterest is going for, and use image recognition AI to turn anything you might photograph into a buy-it-now opportunity.

For now, Snap is in learning mode, while it simply demonstrates the possibility of retail to brands and users alike. And as for Jordan, it’s sure to have sold out of its limited edition release tonight. Those shoes disappear faster than Snap Stories.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.