So the good news from 2009 is that retailers had a good fourth quarter and predictably, online sales contributed significantly. The bad news is that research company Forrester reported last week that this growth is set to stall in 2010 with the number of consumers planning to shop more online than on the high street dropping for the first time in recent years.
What does this mean for marketers, particularly those working in online retail? And how do we keep growth moving forward and continue to expand profits in a market that is widely predicted to plateau?
We are not seeing a plateau in the growth of online shopping, but rather a plateau of what can be achieved with technology as it stands and crucially, people’s understanding of it. While retailers have certainly started to dip their toe into Web 2.0 this has largely happened on third party sites without being fully integrated directly into the online shopping experience.
Activities so far have largely been confined to putting TV ads on YouTube, or setting up fan-sites on Facebook, Twitter and the like. While these initiatives have been great at driving new ways to advertise, the effect has largely been felt away from the main ecommerce centres without a real understanding as to what exactly is the benefit being achieved.
But that is starting to change. In the same way that online video was the first major Web 2.0 arrival on the scene thanks to YouTube, video will also have a major impact on ecommerce. It is already starting to have a far more direct impact on the selling process as it crosses over from the likes of YouTube and featuring more directly on the main retailers sites.
If online is to continue to thrive, e-tailers need new ways to boost traffic, while introducing methods to keep consumers on their site for longer and returning on a more regular basis. The answer may lie in video’s ability to not just show products more clearly, but to provide more ways for consumers to engage with brands through intelligent online programming – i.e. not simply advertorials featuring specific products, but programming with real editorial values striving to inform, educate and entertain.
In this way, brands can increase awareness of their products, improve the volume of sales and reduce returns – all the while building a loyal customer following regularly coming back for more.
There is plenty of evidence to support this view. A recent Comscore report showed that brands using online video have seen incremental buying lifts of anywhere from 20%-40%, and according to PWC, video leads to a 30% average increase in sales, even a staggering 300% in some cases. But what makes this really interesting is the fact that marketing-led content is increasingly being seen as entertainment in its own right.
This month IKEA has seen phenomenal success with the introduction of a spoof documentary series called “Easy to assemble” that regularly achieves more than 5m views. It is shot professionally on HD and features guest appearances from the likes of Tom Arnold and Keanu Reeves. What this shows is that where brands are willing to invest in original, high-quality programming, the audience is out there. They are not only watching this sort of content, but sharing it. And so long as quality is maintained, they keep coming back for more.
We aren’t quite so brave in the UK just yet, but retailers are starting to step into this space, with high-street brands like Warehouse and Oasis regularly delivering video-based content to customers. This content does not just feature products, but also interviews with designers, buyers and customers, and attempts to show merchandise in a relaxed setting, rather than purely via a hard sell approach like a catwalk or video-based “pack shot”.
Our experience of working on Marks and Spencer TV shows how high-quality content not only significantly increases the amount of products bought by consumers who have engaged with the video experience versus those that haven’t, but that the number of return customers and dwell time also increases.
As we start to implement these new types of programming, we will see another growth spurt in online sales. Consumers will realise that an improved overall experience awaits them, and with the addition of new ways to hold their interest on the site, they will stay longer, and be enticed back more regularly, buying more while they’re there.
Of course, we haven’t even begun to discuss what video can achieve via the new wave of mobile handsets, in-store programming, the luxury market and outdoor multi-channel. This is a massive growth area in 2010 and one we’re investing in heavily – watch this space.