March 4, 2004, 12:00 AM

The Big Production

(Page 4 of 4)

Marrs says the audio files occupy little bandwidth so customers’ connection speed isn’t an issue. “If you’re on a dial-up connection, you will wait for probably only 30 seconds for it to play,” he says.

But video streams are a different story. Since last year, Buy.com has streamed video trailers of movie titles available on DVD. The trailers can be viewed with Real, QuickTime or Windows Media players, but Marrs grants the viewing isn’t as clear for those on dial-up. “If you’re on a low speed connection you may see a picture that’s a bit more grainy, perhaps in a smaller widow,” he says. “But it’s still something you can download and enjoy. Faster connections will produce a view that’s cleaner and crisper.”

Buy works directly with movie studios and other providers to stream and host the videos where it can. Currently, trailers are available for about 5% of Buy.com’s 37,000-title DVD catalog. Marrs adds that Buy has so far focused on streaming trailers for marquee titles already supported by extensive marketing, which helps bring people to the site. “The trailers are something customers want to see, but people already have an awareness of these titles,” he says. Hence, their impact on conversions isn’t as strong as for audio samples. Buy’s next step will be to dig deeper into its DVD catalog to stream trailers for less-publicized movies, for which Marrs anticipates the trailers will become a more effective sales tool.

Rich media in all its formats isn’t yet mainstream but it’s moving in that direction, spurred by the development of new and better technology to deliver it, increasing broadband penetration at the user end, and a certain element of keeping up with the Joneses. Among marketers, believers are spearheading adoption, while those more cautious or constrained wait for the arrival of their own personal tipping point.

Before making the leap, they’ll have to define their objectives in using rich media so as to gauge success. Whether it’s about branding as in the case of Reebok’s streamed videos, exploring a product in detail such as SharpUSA’s interactive demonstrations, or providing an online shopping experience that mimics the offline experience more closely than ever, as do the virtual catalogs at Jos. A Bank, Restoration Hardware and others, rich media will likely serve best when it has a job to do.

And more than just the latest bells and whistles, it’s here to stay. “It will be expected that you will be able to present your product or message in this kind of way, and when enough of your competitors are doing this, you will too,” says Future Image senior analyst Tony Henning. “This will become the norm as the bar is continually raised, so I’d expect this in time to become standard. It’s not just the icing on the cake-it’s becoming the cake.”

mary@verticalwebmedia.com




Settling the connection speed question

With one-third of Internet buyers still shopping via narrowband, varied connection speeds at the customer end have been a major concern for many online retailers contemplating the use of rich media. Though viewable to users on low-speed connections, these features load faster and look clearer on broadband.

Online marketers who’ve gone ahead with implementing rich media have overcome initial reservations for a variety of reasons. They’ve examined their target demographic and concluded that it consists largely of broadband users, or they’ve implemented solutions that let customers indicate connection speed to optimize viewing or added technology that does that for the user. For still others, the payoff of rich media in added sales, conservation of internal resources, or both, outweighs the concerns.

“I thought that a lot of our audience would not have the capacity to view this easily,” says Rachel Pendon, Internet marketing manager of Chelsea & Scott Ltd., which operates children’s and baby gear web and catalog retailers Leaps and Bounds and OneStepAhead. “I was afraid some of our audience was still on lower-speed connections and I didn’t want to upset them.”

 

Nevertheless, in late December she replaced OneStepAhead’s previous HTML online catalog with a Flash-powered version from RichFX, in part to make finding items online easier for the 50% of online shoppers she knew had received the catalog. She also wanted to save the two week’s time required to proof each online catalog written in HTML, as the Flash version simply uses the digital pages already produced for the paper catalog. Viewers without the Flash plug-in see the catalog in HTML.

 

40% of site visitors now check out the new Flash catalog and it generates 75% more page views than the HTML version of the catalog did. The Flash catalog is attracting new buyers, too: 85% of customers who’ve purchased from it so far are new. “If you are not familiar with our site, the catalog is the easiest way to find things. We’ve achieved ROI on our Flash version,” she says.

CEO of dynamic imaging technology provider Scene7 Doug Mack advises clients considering rich media to implement technologies and solutions that are still friendly to their narrowband community. But rather than making customers indicate what connection they’re using, Mack says technology does the same task more elegantly.

Scene 7’s technology does that, and its dynamic image server automatically adjusts what it serves to optimize viewing for different connection speeds. “Any time you put an extra step in the process for the customer, you’re just asking them to do more work on the way to a purchase,” he says. “At the end of the day, the ideal solution is to go ahead and sense that for your customer and then deliver the appropriate experience.”

To view the Guide to Rich Media Products & Services click here.

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