4 Video-Sourcing Methods: Pros and Cons of Each

Ecommerce merchants that are serious about creating winning video strategies need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each production and sourcing method. The benefits of each could depend on the retailer’s goals for its video program. For many retailers, the goal is an increase in top line web sales. For others, it’s supporting offline retail establishments, or creating a well-branded shopping experience that matches customer expectations. Whatever the goals, here’s a quick rundown of four ways to source videos, along with a few tips to help you make the most of each source.

Customer Video

Your customers do not want to create videos for you out of the goodness of their hearts. There must be incentives for them. I’ve worked with many retailers that tried using video contests as a way to entice customers to create video content. Most experienced mixed, if not poor, results because, despite the ease of creating content using web cams and home camcorders, it’s often easier for customers to write a text comment or upload a picture.

Still, here are two retailers that made it work.

  • This is a small, L.A.-based online retailer of cosmetics. It used YouTube to source thousands of product videos, all without incurring production costs. Of course, while user generated video might be “free,” it’s not for many retailers. If you are committed to closely matching stated brand guidelines, it is unlikely that user-generated video will ever be a large source of content for your organization. Additionally, the quality of user-generated videos is highly varied (many are quite poor).
  • BilliardEx This is another small retailer that built a successful video strategy by partnering with customers. BilliardEx used a combination of professional quality video production with real customers to gain control of messaging and quality while spotlighting actual customers. The results are a more convincing customer experience and better-performing videos.

Automated Video

There are a growing number of services that claim to produce videos automatically to cover a retailer’s entire product catalog. Among the players: Stupeflix, Treepodia, Dynamic Video, SundaySky. Here is an example of an auto-video on that was created by SundaySky.

The appeal of auto-video can be strong for retailers, large and small. It requires no investment in video production, and retailers can update and serve videos daily across their sites and across thousands of products, dynamically. Automated video can be an effective method of offering video for a larger numbers of SKUs. It may, additionally, represent an effective solution for long-tail products that otherwise could not justify the expense of higher quality videos that deliver a more compelling customer and shopping experience.

Unfortunately, automated-video is hardly a panacea. There is a direct trade-off between quality and automation, typically. Second, setting up video templates and voiceovers requires manual work, especially if the templates are customized for the retailer. Another major drawback of automated video is that making the video “dynamic” could require re-encoding videos simply to display elements in-video, such as prices, reviews, and descriptions. A data feed coupled with a Flash player and vector templates could be a more scalable approach.

Self-Produced Video

More retailers are producing their own videos. Self-produced video often provides the greatest degree of creative freedom for retailers, ensuring precise control over content and the customer experience. Moreover, the traditional cost of producing video in-house is falling. Solutions like The Talk Market are used by retailers, including and REI, to create high-quality videos quickly. Other retailers, such as, ask vendors to help offset the cost of self-producing video. And retailers like produce videos inexpensively in-house by taking advantage of employee talent and basic sets to differentiate it in a crowded outdoor-retail market.

Retail video does have drawbacks. While the customer experience can be tightly controlled, retailers that do not invest in creating a consistent production process will find they are able to produce fewer videos, making each video having to work “harder” to create return on investment. One suggestion is to concentrate scarce production resources on the products most likely to generate the highest amount of revenue. That way, any incremental conversion lift resulting from video will have the strongest impact on the business.

Another drawback of self-produced video is that this method tends to be the most expensive. Retailers like PFI Western Wear are able to overcome the increased cost by extending video to channels like email, mobile and TV. That’s right, TV. PFI actually bought airtime on a satellite station and began producing its own TV show. Today, that show is a significant source of revenue for this innovative small retailer.

Supplier and Manufacturer Video

Videos from inventory suppliers and manufacturers have long been a staple of ecommerce. After all, manufacturers are often able to produce videos that cover their entire product lines. Conversely, in many cases, suppliers and manufacturers invest a significant amount of time and money into their product videos. These videos are usually available through syndication services like WebCollage, Invodo, SellPoint, Easy2, or Vendaria. Thousands of vendor videos also proliferate on YouTube.

Retailers like and Costco used vendor video as a launch point for video programs that are much larger today and have grown to include self-produced content. The draw of vendor video is that is it’s often free and widely available.

Screen capture of a sample video for Costco.

Screen capture of a sample video for Costco.

The drawbacks of vendor video are that it’s free (meaning all your competitors are probably already using it) and lacks messaging that differentiates the retailer or integrates seamlessly into the ecommerce site or overall video strategy. When using vendor video to prove a business case, some retailers use both the conversion impact of video and vendor co-op dollars to justify its use. Many smaller ecommerce sites do not have large supplier-marketing budgets. But you might be surprised to learn how eager some suppliers and manufacturers are to get their video content on your site.


There is no one right way to produce ecommerce video. Every retailer should carefully weigh the pros and cons of each production method, keeping in mind the trade-offs between automation, cost, and quality. Many retailers choose multiple production methods, using manufacturer video where beneficial, for example, and then supplementing with self-produced video and auto-video.

Justin Foster
Justin Foster
Bio   •   RSS Feed