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Snap’s Hidden Code Hints at Greater Commerce Ambitions

Does Snapchat want to be a bigger player in commerce? Code hidden within Snap Inc.’s Android software points to the struggling social media firm aiming to take a greater role in connecting people with products.

The hidden code in question, dubbed Camera Search, enables Snap users to press and hold to get information on songs, objects and barcodes, among other things. While Shazam takes the task of identifying songs, the code sends users who focus on an object to see similar or matching product listings at Amazon. Such an arrangement typically would involve referral links that reserve a share of profits for Snap, which could use a new revenue stream in light of its $385 million first-quarter loss.

If Snapchat is planning to launch this feature, it could signal the company’s ambitions to break from its social-media mold into a more general-purpose and utilitarian business model—and secure new users outside of its core teen and millennial base. What’s more, the Camera Search could further distinguish Snap from rival Instagram, whose Stories feature is a direct rip-off of Snap but also is now more popular (more than 300 million users) and widely used. Stories are a series of photos and videos stitched together to create a narrative snapshot that disappears after 24 hours.

This is just the latest development in Snap Inc.’s forays into digital commerce. Earlier this year, the social firm launched the Snap Store to hawk a limited selection its own branded merch, with new drops happening weekly. Then it teamed up with Nike for an exclusive sneaker release, gamifying the experience in the process—and hinting at similar launch collabs in the future.

Responding to a growing user base of businesses in addition to consumers, Instagram has been adding features to facilitate shopping as well. A June update lets users now shop inside Stories instead of shopping from the traditional Instagram feed, with shopping-bag “stickers” indicating which pictured items consumers can click through on for purchase info.

Consumers are spending a growing amount of time inside their favorite social apps, presenting brands and retailers with new opportunities to compete for eyeballs at the point of inspiration.