The New E-Marketing Must-Haves: Video and Rich Media

For decades, both manufacturers and retailers have practiced and refined the art of merchandising products. From simple steps like packaging, product shelf placement and signage to sales rep training days and the stopping power of endcap displays, retailers and their vendors have traditionally worked together because they recognized consumer shopping dynamics and shared a common motivation to drive sales by presenting shoppers with a compelling story of features, benefits and value.

Shopper behavior has fundamentally and forever changed. Across nearly all product categories, most shoppers are now looking online first to research products and form their purchase decision. About 93 percent of adults regularly or occasionally research products online before buying them in a store, according to the National Retail Federation.

The proliferation of broadband access has allowed for a new and increasingly engaging way of merchandising products, from high-resolution, close-up product views to full videos and integrated audio feature descriptions with a depth of printable sales collateral. The online product page has become the new point of influence for engaging customers and influencing brand preference. The quality of that experience dramatically impacts sales.

More Information Needed

A product page featuring a single picture and a short text description are simply inadequate to position a product, inform the customer and close the sale. The new online merchandising allows retailers to present shoppers with the online equivalent of a well-placed endcap, an active demonstration by a trained salesperson, and a full compliment of printed collateral on every SKU (stock-keeping unit)!

Clearly, shoppers need more — and better — product information than the typical Web page can convey. However, with thousands of products, retailers have neither the specific product expertise nor the technical resources to cost-effectively create and manage rich content for the products they sell. The risks for retailers are all too familiar: short site visits, frequent departures to competing sites, high cart abandonment and product returns, and lost sales.

SellPoint addresses the problems by working with product manufacturers to provide retailers with hosted video and rich media product demonstrations called “Active Product Tours,” which shoppers launch by pressing a View Tour button on a retail product page. In addition to dynamic video, Active Product Tours also include printable manufacturer sales collateral such as brochures, user manuals and FAQs.

SellPoint’s content, which is available to retailers free of charge, is easy to integrate into retail Web sites through the one-time addition of simple JavaScript code. Other companies, such as WebCollage, offer a similar solution.

Using New Tools

The new online merchandising is still most effective when coupled with a great in-store shopping experience, and smart retailers are leveraging and profiting from the change in shopper behavior by not only using the new online merchandising tools, but also by integrating them into their overall merchandising strategy.

Since retailers are inherently closer to the shopper’s online experience, it behooves them to promote (and ultimately require) that their vendors provide rich product content through a source that can deliver the five key criteria retailers need:

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  1. Engaging rich media. Move beyond low-resolution GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) and JPEG product images to leverage the latest rich media technologies such as Flash, Web audio and video, zooming and 360-degree views in product tours to deliver an engaging shopping experience. Don’t settle for static content.
  2. Dynamic content. Retailers today cope with ever-shorter product life cycles and quick-turn manufacturer promotional campaigns. Effective syndication of rich media product content to your site must include automated accommodation for SKU changes and other new information.
  3. Customizable content. The integration of rich media product tours should be seamless for your shoppers. Content this effective at increasing conversion should be showcased, so make sure your method for presenting video product tours is prominent on your product page. Place your graphical View Tour button next to the main product image.

    Also, take advantage of optional capabilities such as the integration of an additional Buy button (linked to your shopping cart) within the rich media tour window, and take advantage of the viral Send to a Friend option, so that shoppers can easily e-mail a link to their friends that will drive traffic right back to your store.

  4. Aggregated content. Favor those solutions that can bring your site rich product content from a variety of product manufacturers through a single aggregated source. If key vendors haven’t yet produced rich product content, let them know this is important, and address the subject in your vendor-specific marketing and communication efforts.
  5. Hosted content. You already know how complex the management of product data can be. For rich-media online merchandizing solutions, external hosting and management of the content is critical. With extensive high-resolution image galleries, video libraries and audio streams, rich product content requires considerable file storage and network bandwidth. A proven, hosted solution is a must.

A New Requirement

In much the same way that wish lists, loyalty programs, one-click checkout, online promotion codes, cross-sells, “also bought” selections and live chat are now checklist features for Web-based retailers, engaging, rich-media product tours are “must-haves” to attract shoppers and increase conversion. The visitor clicking away from a Web site is no different than the curious customer who walks out of the store empty-handed. In today’s multichannel environment, online merchandizing is a requirement.

Increasingly, Web shoppers are looking to media-rich product presentations in their purchase process. By 2006, 43 percent of consumers were viewing online video, far more than other new media activity, according to DoubleClick. The charter for retailers is clear — best practices (as well as customer demand) require using video and other rich media as an online merchandizing tool to drive sales both online and in-store, and retailers should evangelize their vendors to do their part — the competition will certainly be doing so.

Rick Martin is CEO of SellPoint, a provider of on-demand video product tours.

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