Preparing for Television Commerce; 4 Steps

A recent survey found that almost half of American television viewers were interested in making purchases directly from their television sets, using remote controls or companion devices. Given that consumers may spend five times as many hours a week watching television as they do browsing the web, so-called television commerce could be huge for retailers.

PayPal, which entered a payment processing agreement with Comcast cable and TiVo in June 2012, surveyed television watchers in October 2011, finding that 30 percent of them would use PayPal to make television-based purchases if they could and that 49 percent wanted the opportunity to make television-based or so-called “t-commerce” purchases.

Alternate Views of T-commerce

On the surface, this sort of data and reports from Nielsen, the measurement firm, stating that the typical consumer watches 5.1 hours a day of television and spends one a fifth of that time — one hour a day — on the Internet seem to indicate that t-commerce could be a huge boon for retailers.

Unfortunately, it is not yet clear what form t-commerce might take and whether or not consumers really want to shop while watching episodes of Dancing with the Stars.

Some believe that t-commerce will evolve to focus on commercials or product placement in shows. In this view, consumers will have the opportunity to purchase either the items shown during commercials or items used by performers in the show. For example, a new generation of remote control could have a “Buy Now” button included. When a television viewer sees a commercial for, say, a set of kitchen knives, that consumer could click the button, instantly consummating a purchase. Similarly, a tablet app might offer clothing, furniture, and even cars in real time as those items are appearing in a television episode. With this form of t-commerce, merchants would need to purchase advertising time from a network or television streaming service.

An alternate view of t-commerce’s future imagines that the television set will become a second screen for tablets, smartphones, or even coffee table computers — or an Internet-enabled device in its own right. In this potential t-commerce model, shoppers would use applications or simply surf using a standard browser — the X-Box 360, for example, just gave users access to Internet Explorer on their televisions. T-commerce would be very similar to ecommerce or even mobile commerce.

Preparing for T-commerce

Regardless of which of these t-commerce visions emerge — or even if both emerge — there are some things that retailers can start doing now to begin to offer shoppers the opportunity to find and purchase products from televisions.

This includes adding additional sales channels, creating applications, building responsive websites, and investing in mobile commerce.

Tip 1: Sell on eBay, Amazon, Marketplaces

eBay, which is one of the leading online marketplaces for both new and used products, is already participating in t-commerce. The company has a “Watch with eBay” application for iPad that searches the eBay marketplace for items related to the show a consumer is watching.

Large marketplaces, like eBay or Amazon, have the capital and the engineering resources to enter t-commerce before small retailers. To take advantage of this, retailers simply need to list their products on these marketplaces.

To be prepared for t-commerce, sell on forward-looking marketplaces now.

Tip 2: Create Television Apps

Several of the leading set-top box makers offer software development kits and the opportunity to build t-commerce enabled applications. Retailers will need to contract with or hire a capable app developer, but there is the opportunity to have applications on TiVo, Google TV, Roku, and similar.

These television-based applications could be extensions of an online catalog, some sort of social sharing experience, product introduction videos, other kinds of video-content marketing, or even games that somehow introduce users to a retailer’s products.

To be prepared for t-commerce, investigate t-commerce applications now.

Tip 3: Take Responsive Design in a New Direction

Recent emphasis on mobile devices has rightfully focused a lot of attention on responsive design.

Responsive design is a site building philosophy and technique focused on giving users the best possible experience relative to their device — be it a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer. Because smartphones and tablets have driven this trend, most of the discussion and application of responsive design has focused on offering smaller, narrower versions of a site.

But responsive design, however can be extended to include large, high-resolution television screens, too. Using the same techniques that make sites look and work better on a smartphone, designers and developers can also optimize a site for television viewing

To prepare for t-commerce, have designers and developers take responsive design in a new, larger direction.

Tip 4: Invest in Tablet and Smartphone App and Platforms

The technologies underlying mobile devices — think Linux or the Java language — also tend to underlie television set-top box technology, too. Some platforms, like Google TV, will actually run modified versions of Android applications, so that mobile apps may be adapted with relative ease for the television-viewing environment.

Put simply, to prepare for t-commerce, invest in mobile apps and lay the foundation for future TV apps.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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