The future of online video shopping – what television shopping can teach us

In part 2 of my interview with video shopping pioneer Bill Lane, we discuss what challenges the Web and mobile video industries will need to overcome to achieve the success of TV shopping networks today and be treated as the “new broadcasting media” for consumers and retailers.

VCC: How do you compare the TV shopping audience to the audiences from video shopping on the Internet and cell phones?

Bill: What the TV shopping networks have done through video, through live action visuals, is create an atmosphere of trust.  They reinforce that through their pricing strategies; they reinforce that through their broadcast standards; they do it through their programming.  Subsequently, they’ve built a very successful, very productive model. Once a TV station has reached maximum distribution, 90% to 95% of the country, all it has left is the same 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  TV Stations have to come up with mechanisms and ways to make every minute more valuable. What’s happened in the TV world has not yet happened in the Internet world. The video world on the web and mobile Internet has not gotten that process yet.  But that’s exciting. It means we’re at a point where people can be creating a new format as opposed to just relying on what’s been done in the past.  Of course, anything new goes against the grain because what most people do is rely upon what’s been done in the past. I don’t think [the past] is as exciting.

Do you believe the success of TV shopping will eventually carry over to video shopping via the Web and mobile? What do you find are the challenges and growing pains they’ll need to overcome first?

I think there will be tremendous advantages, but it’s also going to be very different.  From what my evaluation now shows, web merchants are still using video as if video was the same thing as a still photo.  They are not using the storytelling capacity of video; they’re just using video to show the product.  They are using video to show what [the product] does, whether it is a paddle or whether it be home goods.  They’re using video to show how products work but they are not creating a video experience that is unique or special.

Also, most customers are not used to shopping by online video. The TV shopping customers are.  That’s why TV shopping/home shopping networks like QVC and HSN use their videos dramatically on their websites to create effect. Their customers know how to look at those videos.  They know what to expect from them; the video they’re going to pull up is going to entertain them as well as inform them.  What I see now on the Web is that video is still being mostly used as just glorified pictures. As I said, web merchants have yet to create this new broadcasting media.

This is a changing environment (online), and it’s not one that satisfies the general consumer. To me right now, video in the online shopping channels isn’t utilized in a way that is compelling enough for the shopping experience.  It’s still being used as an advertising medium. That creates confusion among consumers shopping online who see what appear to be lots of television commercials.

[Executives] haven’t come up with a way for the customer that’s not used to watching video online to be interested and find it compelling.  I think that the Web can do this because it’s about information. It’s about delving deeper and deeper.  Wikipedia knows that.  You never just look at the one article that you’re reading about.  You’re constantly going to the associated articles because they interest you; and that’s because they’re telling you a story that interests you. Video is about the storytelling. I think you’re going to eventually see more companies use (Web and mobile) video for telling stories to certain customer segments – segments that are not spending all day watching a TV station, but are still interested in a category of products.

So what is that audience’s expectation of online video?

They want someone to update them on those products – what’s new with them, what’s going on, etc.  TV did this very well when they sold computers.  Nobody initially thought you could sell a $1,500 computer on TV, but the opposite proved to be true.  The reason why is that the TV shopping video was able to make people feel comfortable, who weren’t comfortable buying a computer 20 years ago. It didn’t make them stupid when they walked into a store and some 20 year old sales clerk was talking down to them. [TV shopping] treated customers with respect.  It gave them information, made them feel comfortable, and created an atmosphere of trust. Shoppers want information and they want to be entertained.

So how do you think the good retailers try to meet the needs of the consumer/customer online?

What you’ll see are companies that will learn how to develop compelling storytelling so that the customer who is searching for a category or a brand of product will feel more comfortable buying that brand or product on a website that knows how to talk to them visually.  We are a visual culture. That is not going to change.  That’s going to continue and the visualization is going to need to be associated with smaller snippets; and that’s the challenge for the TV shopping networks as they continue to grow their Web and mobile business. They’re trying to figure out, “how do we tell these stories to make people take the time to want to watch it, and how do we tell it in a way that makes it compelling for them to take action?”

Just having video on your Website, YouTube, or anywhere online is not enough. If you don’t give people a compelling reason to click your video and watch it, they’ll be bored with it (and with you) very quickly. [Merchants] have got to get shoppers to care about video enough. Just “having it” is not enough right now. I don’t see that energy yet, except for some companies that have a handle on it and are really trying to move the industry to the next step.

What do you see as the future of mobile with video shopping? Do you believe the audience and distribution will grow to where it can also be part of “the new broadcast media?”

Absolutely. I see it worldwide.  First of all, mobile as a mechanism of distribution is obviously growing at an enormous rate.  The number of people I personally know who don’t use (desktop computers) anymore and just carry their mobile is amazing. I think that mobile is the future – obviously not the only future but it will be the strongest future. I think being able to create contextual merchandising on mobile will be absolutely crucial because it’s allowing the customer to access information and entertainment wherever they are, however they want it, and whenever they want.

You also work today with international mobile retailers in helping them develop their own video shopping technologies and solutions. How do you find international consumers using mobile video shopping compared with U.S. consumers?

My take away from working with international electronic retailers is that the consumer is pretty standard whether in the USA, Germany, Japan, England, etc.  They are primarily interested in the same product and respond to the same stimuli.  This bodes well for web and mobile retailing as the market is worldwide once you are able to create compelling video that interests the consumer and drives them to take action.

So what do you see will, or should, be the future of online video shopping?

The future is going to be all about creative compelling experiences for the customer because it’s all about knowing how to talk to their customer.

I would add, online video shopping will have to deal with the same lack of respect that TV shopping had to deal with for decades. The naysayers who didn’t shop on TV viewed the video shopping networks as just non-stop infomercials, which have a bad rep, even though it’s a multi-billion dollar business and a successful business. People generally don’t like infomercials, but TV shopping networks have been able to fight becoming that and being viewed as that, by creating a trusting environment. That’s where the consumer isn’t feeling like they’re being hassled. Instead, it feels like you’re selling to your neighbor and talking to your neighbor about a recommendation.  I think that recommendations of people will continue to grow dramatically; and video online is the perfect venue. Consumer and producer understanding of video (and the power it has for businesses) is still in its infancy, but it’s going to grow very dramatically.