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Trial buy television: will t-commerce experiments reshape home shopping?

With Sky unveiling a new shoppable ad format and Amazon testing out commerce within its Prime shows, Carat’s Dan Calladine ponders the rise of t-commerce as part of The Drum’s deep dive into the future of TV.

Two of the most interesting media trends lately have been the rise of interactive live video shoppingseen particularly in Asia – and the growing penetration of connected TVs in people’s homes. What we expect is that these will converge with the uptake of e-commerce via the TV – or t-commerce.

Live video shopping has been a trend in Asia for about five years. It started to take off on Alibaba’s channels around 2016 and was a major feature of its Singles’ Day online shopping festival in November that year.

As a result, live video shopping has now become big business in the region, with everyone from farmers to influencers using it to show off their products to potential customers. Lockdowns have only accelerated this behavior, it having been impossible in many countries to visit stores in person.

This trend is now moving to the west through platforms such as ShopShops, which took the Chinese idea global in 2018 via social media channels including Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, as well as dedicated niche apps such as Whatnot where people shop for collectables and memorabilia in live streams.

Now, with the rise of connected TVs and the movement of online content to the TV screen, we are starting to see the potential for reinvention of home shopping via the TV. For example, more than 120 million people in the US streamed YouTube to their TVs in December 2020. More than ever, TV screens could be considered interactive screens, which could have huge implications for home shopping.

Of course, TV shopping isn’t new. The likes of QVC and infomercials have been around since the 80s, letting people buy directly from their screen by calling a number, essentially TV-based mail order. And in the early 2010s there were experiments using Shazam as a response mechanism for TV, including a trial in the UK in 2012 during a break in Britain’s Got Talent. It never really seemed to take off, however, due to the friction involved in opening your phone, opening Shazam, making sure it could hear the TV etc.

The rise in penetration of connected TVs could reduce this friction, giving the promise of being able to do everything on one device. This could be either through direct TV channels and programming, or via the integrated apps accessed through click, type and voice on the television hardware itself.

Amazon announced at a recent IAB conference that it has been experimenting with commerce within its Prime TV shows. The examples it cited were Rihanna’s fashion line Savage x Fenty, which held a catwalk show on Prime in September 2020, with the products then available to buy on, and Amazon’s reality show Making The Cut, in which members of the public competed to become a fashion designer, with products from the show available to buy after it had aired.

These both seem like early Amazon experiments, and while it would be easier to buy from Amazon on a laptop or phone, it shows that coverage on TV can drive demand. It would presumably also be possible to buy with your remote control at some point, by clicking on a button on screen, similar to being able to tee up the next episode of a show.

Sky, meanwhile, has just revealed a shoppable TV ad format in its upfronts. Essentially it is a QR code that can be added to an ad, which viewers can then scan with their phones and be taken straight to a sales page. Advertisers are then able to track and accurately measure both visits and sales, as well as attribute them back to the specific spot. While this feels comparatively clunky, just like the Shazam example (see the ad, open phone, walk up to screen, scan code, visit site), Sky claims that QR codes deliver much better levels of response – and, of course, they are trackable to specific placements, rather than trying to attribute site visits to the most recent broadcast spot.

Meanwhile, YouTube has just announced that it will be bringing new ad formats to its channels, when people watch on a TV. It will allow viewers to send information and links relating to ads to their phones and other second screen devices, so they can click to find out more or go straight to websites from its direct response ads.

YouTube is also testing something that feels straight out of a sci-fi film. It claims that it has the technology to recognize objects in the videos that we watch – a food mixer in a recipe video, for example. What it can then do is see what sort of objects appear in the videos we watch and make product recommendations in a similar way to how it recommends videos that we would be interested in watching, based on our viewing history.

This is only a test, but if it works it has the potential to approach the idea of shopping on your TV from a very different angle.

Dan Calladine is head of media futures at Carat.

From late April until early May, The Drum is taking a deep dive into what’s in store for the small screen as we launch our Future of TV hub.

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