Silverlight vs. Flash – which is best for video commerce?

I’ve noticed more people asking me about the relative merits of Flash vs. Silverlight for e-commerce video, especially since the release of Silverlight 3.0 in July.  I am not a technical expert on the differences between Flash and Silverlight, so I won’t expose my ignorance here by pretending otherwise.  Besides, a simple Google search reveals no shortage of Flash v. Silverlight comparison reports for the curious.  Smashing Magazine’s writeup is one of the better ones.  Read it here if you’re so inclined.

For most executives in e-commerce, my general read is still that the battle between Flash versus Silverlight comes down to one thing: market penetration.  No matter if Silverlight can offer slightly higher video quality playback than Flash, or if its support for languages like C# make it easier for developers to work with when building players or video widgets (as opposed to Flash’s ActionScript, which is proprietary to Flash), very few e-commerce companies I know are willing to risk the added prompt to have a shopper download Silverlight.  In e-commerce, we’re all about shortening conversion funnels, moving people to purchase faster, and making the shopping experience seamless. A Silverlight download prompt is just one more barrier standing in the way of an e-commerce merchant and a sale.

This isn’t to imply that Silverlight’s early adoption is not impressive and worthy of a hard look.  Silverlight adoption has grown at a much faster clip than Flash did in its early days, after all.  Ultimately, however, the numbers speak for themselves: Flash is available on 99.0% of PCs in mature markets, and 97.9% of PCs in emerging markets.  Silverlight, by comparison, is hovering at just around 33%, according to the latest statistics I’ve seen.  In other words, if the statistics are accurate, 99 out of 100 of shoppers on your site can watch video in a Flash player, while only 1 out of 3 can watch video with Silverlight.

Would you rather please 99% of your customers, or irritate 67% of your customers?  It’s no wonder Flash remains the dominant standard for e-commerce video delivery. Have a great weekend everyone.

Happy Selling!