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Channel (s)hopping: exploring the potential for shoppable TV ads

By Andrew Sandoval

July 22, 2021 | 8 min read

With numerous top UK broadcasters making inroads on shoppable ads, Andrew Sandoval, vice-president of biddable media at Croud, explores just how feasible the media channel is for shoppers.

Shoppable TV

ITV kicked off its shoppable offering with its summer hit reality show Love Island

You’ve seen the show, now buy the T-shirt. That used to be the way of things. Now, with shoppable ads, you can buy the T-shirt during the show – or the make-up, the shoes, or maybe even the sofa.

ITV kicked off its shoppable offering with its summer hit reality show Love Island and a partnership including sponsorship partners Boots and LG TVs. But while the idea may sound simple enough, the reality is somewhat different and not completely seamless.

To access the service, viewers need at least a 2019 version of an LG TV, along with a software upgrade (the 2021 version comes upgraded). They can launch shopping using their remote control, but will have to opt in for notifications first.

There are no spontaneous clicks for lipstick – to start with, at least. Instead, customers must resort to another device to make the purchase through the Boots website or via a link to their phone. If the launch proves successful, there are plans to offer more shoppable TV on ITV programs throughout the year – and hopefully more seamless experiences for audiences.

Other pioneers

This isn’t the first attempt at shoppable TV. Sky has been making the most of its platform ecosystem by introducing shoppable ads via Sky Mobile. Addressable TV ads feature a unique QR code that, like the ITV version, drives customers to the brand’s website.

Sky Media, responsible for selling ads on the platform, claims this adds a new layer of both measurability and effectiveness for short-term response, capturing the trend for “dual screen behaviors”.

Shoppable TV has gained more traction in the US than the UK to date. NBCU has offered a direct checkout feature on its shoppable ads for around 18 months. In an interview with eMarketer, NBCU chief marketer Josh Feldman said the challenge in introducing commerce into the TV environment was that it involved driving customers away from content that they came to see – and that “defeats the purpose”. Now NBCU Checkout can be layered over any piece of content, so viewers can shop without leaving the programming.

There’s huge potential in frictionless shoppable TV. Already it’s easy to see how Amazon’s X-Ray function on Amazon Prime, which allows you to access the IMDB profiles of actors in any given scene, can be adapted to shoppable TV.

Some sectors do look set to benefit more than others – FMCG, for instance. FMCG brands are already among the biggest TV advertisers, and shoppable TV offers a clear opportunity to establish a direct relationship with customers, outside of the four walls of the pharmacy or supermarket.

Dash to the future

The key to success is all about eliminating friction. Customers in front of the TV are not always thinking about whether they need nappies or fabric softener, but the right prompt at the right time could make all the difference, and someone like Amazon could make significant inroads in this space. Amazon already holds a lot of data about its customers, and Amazon-powered shoppable TV could provide a lot of benefit, from personalization to saved payment details.

Indeed, it seems a natural evolution of the Amazon Dash, an idea that was just a little ahead of its time. With Dash, the concept of meeting immediate need was sound, but the idea of creating yet another device to manage it was not. Now it’s a feature of an app on your phone – and potentially a button on your remote.

The persuasive arguments for the benefits of shoppable ads to the consumer still need to be collated and deployed. Only 36% of US consumers are receptive to shoppable TV. But at the moment, no company other than Amazon is really in a position to deliver a truly end-to-end experience, and this is a problem. Roku, for instance, knows a lot about its viewers but it can’t provide a shopping experience without partners, so this will be the major hurdle. Connecting the sheer number of tech and retail players needed to deliver a truly seamless, shoppable TV experience at scale will take time.

It’s clear that shoppable TV is some way off being a true ‘point and click’ experience. But it’s worth persevering. Even social shopping, which has been on marketers’ radars for some time (but has certainly been expedited during the last 18 months), has only recently begun to manage a true end-to-end purchasing journey within the platform.

Social shopping a trailblazer

The social shopping experience is often still patchy, with saved customer details not making the leap from web to social, and critical data such as inventory and product availability not being apparent until several steps through the purchase journey. However, it is gaining traction, with 33% of UK shoppers now making purchases directly via social media.

Shoppable TV technology is still in its infancy in comparison, and its real value may lie – for the time being – in enhancing the mobile shopping experience. It is not necessarily the onscreen experience that is holding progress back, but a combination of back-end systems tying together product information, inventory and payment gateways, and hardware.

Anyone who has tried typing and retyping a long password into their streaming service using nothing more than the number buttons or arrows on their remote will empathize. But the potential is increasingly being demonstrated, and brands looking to connect with the large volume of viewers who still value the TV experience will be watching closely.

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