Block’s Content Creator Stint

Block is bringing AI to influencer marketing.

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Block wants to help its merchants flaunt their assets (and sell them, too). 

The company is looking to patent a platform for customizable e-commerce tags in “realtime multimedia content.” This tech uses computer vision and speech recognition techniques for multimedia analysis to detect when a product is in a video, and pull up an “e-commerce tag,” or a pop-up box that displays more information and allows purchases for that product. 

For instance, if you’re scrolling through social media and see a brand talking about different items, Block’s system will pull up different pop-ups depending on an item. The merchant, meanwhile, doesn’t have to do much to benefit from this: Block’s system takes care of everything, as “interactive elements are generated and intelligently positioned without merchant intervention.”  

This tech works whether or not a merchant gives an “explicit or implicit indication” that they’re aiming to sell anything in the live or pre-recorded video, Block noted. The company also said this system can “communicatively couple” with what it called “pure” social media platforms, specifically naming YouTube and Instagram. 

Block said its tech aims to reduce the friction of a customer needing to go to a separate website or page to complete a purchase and “detracts from buyer engagement with the merchant, and could potentially lead to loss of sale opportunities for the merchant.” 

Plus, Block noted, “while merchants may be adept at generating commercials and other forms of multimedia content, they may not be skilled in generating user interfaces, surfacing items that may be relevant to particular consumer of the content, and formatting displayable interactive elements that ease a customer’s ability to purchase the referenced items.”

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Block isn’t new to the creator market. In September 2021, the company, then-called Square, launched a new service in partnership with TikTok that made it easier for merchants to connect their online shops and sell products through the short-form video platform, as well as some interoperability with Instagram. By patenting tech like this, Block stands to strengthen its already strong position in social media commerce. 

Despite the fact that influencer marketing has changed consumers’ purchasing decisions, e-commerce hasn’t been as flexible, according to Lauren Tierney, investor at venture and digital asset fund Decasonic. Major platforms like Block researching tech like this patent exemplify where the industry is headed, she noted.

“Most people buy from their social connections today. They don’t buy from targeted marketing ads,” said Tierney. “I think that the future really lies in this idea that more immersive shopping will emerge … in the places we already consume.” 

But point-of-sale is only a part of Block’s business. Along with Square, the company is the parent of Cash App and Afterpay, and generally focuses more on the financial services side of e-commerce than consumer-end innovations, Tierney noted. Researching tech like this could be a sign that it’s feeling pressure from rivals like Shopify and Stripe to upgrade its customer experiences. 

Block’s tech also adds to the growing number of ways that AI is impacting the e-commerce, sales and advertising industries. Machine learning, computer vision and neural networks are being woven into everything from tracking user behaviors to creating and displaying digital ads wherever you shop online. And with CEO Jack Dorsey’s loud commitment to AI-enabled tech for merchants, there’s likely more to come from Block and its subsidiaries. 

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