“How-To” Product Videos – Tips for Every E-Commerce Business

How-To product videos are one of the most under-utilized features that every e-commerce site should have.  Many brands and retailers should be doing a lot more of them for real financial gain as well as social value with their customers. Learn in this post what are the many benefits of doing how-to videos for your own brand, and some helpful times for getting started.

What is a “How-To” Video?

As Wikipedia explains, “A how-to or a how to is an informal, often short, description of how to accomplish some specific task. A how-to is usually meant to help non-experts.  They may leave out details that are only important to experts, and also be greatly simplified from an overall discussion of the topic.”

When it comes to featuring products for purchase, brands can feature how-to videos in the following ways:

  • To show how to assemble and use a product
  • To show a recommended way of using the product in common (or special) applications or circumstances
  • To demonstrate answers to frequently asked questions
  • To respond to customer issues
  • To show alternative ways of setting up or using a product outside the norm
  • To offer consumer advice (and protection from unscrupulous people, shoddy products, or rip-offs)

Why Do How-To Videos?

How-to videos are the equivalent of low-hanging fruit for any business – they’re low on resources and risk, and high on opportunity. Here are some reasons why:

  • They have compelling content AND context. How-to videos fulfill the most basic and widespread need of consumers – to have help on their own terms and at their own pace, and to make more informed purchasing decisions.
  • They’re very search-friendly (and popular overall). People commonly use search terms starting with “how to,” or ending with “tips” or “instructions.” Google and YouTube, the #1 and #2 search engines, feature how-to videos prominently in their own search results. Also, there are several popular website video platforms – eHow.com, Howcast, Videojug.com, and WonderHowTo.com – which are specific to instructional videos. (See article from VideoRetailer.org on how you can get better SEO on “how-to” videos with video SEO sites.)
  • They’re very helpful. “Storytelling with video is really enhanced, and well as ‘showing how something is done.’ Humans are visual, so the use of video in teaching and persuasion (aka, ‘marketing’) is a natural.” says Dale Evans, author of the book, Social Media Marketing for an Hour a Day.
  • They’re easy to make. People have lower production expectations with a how-to video than a brand awareness piece or other promotional pieces, because the main value is in the clarity of the instructions and advice you’re giving to people. With a how-to video, you don’t need to “wow” your audience; you only need to show the product and instructions clearly with basic audio clarity.
  • They save money. As Zappos’ Senior Manager of Photo & Video Laurie Williams has shared with us in an earlier post here, featuring their products and their uses (along with instructional guides when needed) greatly reduces the rate of returns.
  • They’re great “social currency.” How-to videos resonate very well when you show staff and stakeholders – including manufacturer representatives, sponsored figures, and certainly fans – giving the instructions and sharing stories while helping people out. How-to videos are a great way to feature personalities behind your brand, which lends to building yourself not only as an authority, but also approachable.

Tips for How-to Product Videos in E-Commerce

  • Start with your FAQs – “FAQs are really popular,” says Pete Blackshaw, Global Head of Digital & Social Media at Nestle. “I think if brands could convert their text-based FAQ’s to video-based FAQ’s, they would be in a great position with consumers.”
  • Ask for questions. This is the most overlooked one from the brands I see, is that they don’t think to look at what have been the common questions they’re already being asked. The first place to start is with anyone involved in customer service, or the customer service staff. The next step is to put a call out to your audience for sending in their own questions. (It’s more fun if you can get these people to submit their own questions in the form of a video, giving their name and location, and saying a little something about themselves.)
  • Always feature people. Audiences respond better to seeing someone in your video giving the instructions, so they become a familiar and trusting face.  Video hosts can also help focus a viewer’s attention better.
  • Avoid strange voiceovers. Sometimes you’ll see videos that sound funny because the person on camera is clearly in an environment that does match how they sound. (For example, they may be outdoors, but the vocals sound like they were done in a studio.) Even if the audio doesn’t sound as good in your natural environment, you should still have the video match where the person appears to be talking. I recommend that if your outdoor audio is not great, then just keep it to an off-screen narrative with the in-studio audio, and perhaps just include a short introduction with the person talking in the outdoor setting. (Nothing too long, just enough to give the audience a feel for the environment, and they’ll be much more forgiving of the audio-quality switch.)
  • Include closed-captioning and a transcript. Remember that some of your audience may have trouble understanding who’s speaking, especially if English is not their native language or they’re hard of hearing.
  • Include short text graphics at key points. As this example from Crutchfield Electronics shows, it’s very helpful to have a text graphic appear for each key step. You can also use text graphics to make an interesting and short comment about the process or any product you’re using to perform the task, such as: Safety precautions, key benefits, important reminders, or even benefits, where appropriate.


  • Make helping people your priority, and your brand promotion secondary. This means you should work with common needs that people already have, and specifically keep your title and instructions to what people are asking. Simply featuring your brand’s product in the application is enough, although you can mention special features as long as it directly relates to the help people are expecting.
  • Keep it simple. Make sure you’re speaking on the level of the largest common denominator of your audience. Anytime you need to use a technical term or acronym, assume your audience may need you to give a brief explanation.
  • Include the “why”. Some people are going to be naturally curious about some of the instructions you’re showing them. It’s important to briefly explain why you’re doing exactly what you’re doing, rather than just going through the montions. People retain information better when they feel empowered with the knowledge of what the benefits are during the instructional process, as well as the end result.
  • Always include a graphic watermark. Always include your company brand and/or show series in the same placement for all your how-to videos, like the Crutchfield example demonstrates.
  • Include a hotlink URL. If you have a website landing page on the same subject, include that in both the video and on the description text of any video platform people may be watching it on (including YouTube).
  • Encourage user-generated videos. Letting your fans and customers show others on video how they can help others is a great way of building social currency, and adding value around your products and service solutions. Also, feature them on your own website, video platforms, and social network sites – and they will be sure to share their newfound popularity with others.

Want to learn more about How-To Product Videos in E-Commerce?

Check out my upcoming interview here at the Video Commerce Consortium with Jon Schroeder, Multimedia Producer for Crutchfield Electronics. Jon will be sharing with us Crutchfield’s own success with doing how-to product videos, and tips that other e-commerce businesses can benefit from.  (To get some background on Crutchfield’s video program, read this older article I did on Customer-Centric Video Conversations featuring them.)