January 31, 2001, 11:24 AM

Kids, don't try this at home -- yet

Will web shoppers buy higher-ticket merchandise-what the industry calls “considered purchases”-without seeing a video demonstration online first? Sure-for now. But Yahoo’s shopping channel is betting that may not always be the case. It’s been testing the waters with a new feature, Shopping Vision, which launched on Yahoo.com in November. A spin on the interactive, streaming media feature Finance Vision, which debuted on Yahoo’s personal finance channel in March, Shopping Vision lets site visitors see streaming video content and simultaneously purchase merchandise through a single interface. Content is streamed from ValueVision, a television home shopping network, and Tech TV, a technology-focused TV and online destination. Shopping Vision offers video product reviews and demonstrations it can update daily, depending in part on how popular the featured merchandise proves to be with shoppers.

But accessing Shopping Vision requires a Windows Media Player download. Practically speaking, video streaming is beyond the capacities of the narrowband access still standard among home shoppers, and no one knows yet whether web shoppers will even be willing to pause long enough to watch a 3-minute video of below-broadcast quality. Under those constraints, the impact on traffic-let alone conversions-stands to be minimal at best. But those aren’t the metrics the early retail adopters of streaming media are looking at, says Steven Vonder Harr, an analyst with Boston’s Yankee Group.

“It’s not necessarily an ROI issue for forward-looking retailers,” he says. “What they’re after is the learning.” Analysts say that to the extent e-retailers can figure out now how to interweave traditional web applications with audio and video online, they’ll be better positioned to leverage the capabilities of a bigger data pipe when broadband access goes mainstream in the future. “It’s still early,” says Vonder Haar. “We’re still in a let’s-throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks stage. But integrating multimedia with the interactive capabilities of the web is a very promising path.”

And one that might ultimately drive needed cash to Yahoo’s coffers in the form of additional marketing deals. As part of the Shopping Vision launch, Yahoo signed content distribution and marketing agreements with Value Vision International and a content agreement with Tech TV-value undisclosed. Yahoo is under added pressure to expand its revenue base since its stock hit a 52-week low in December amid analysts’ concerns about a weakening online advertising market.

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