December 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

Blending video and e-commerce

(Page 2 of 5)

Some retailers have begun investing in online video, a few even starting their own online “TV channels.” But when it comes to creating basic, attractive display or demonstration videos, the price is surprisingly small, experts attest. Beyond content creation, ensuring an e-commerce site has technology that can display video-Flash, for example-and the bandwidth to ensure a good site experience for shoppers/viewers is a must. Many retailers, however, already have these in place, the experts add.

Taking the next step, a merchant can inexpensively set up an in-house video studio. “Buy a Mac, which comes with video-editing software built in, a high-definition video camera, Photoshop, and you have yourself a good little studio for around $3,000,” says Eric Heneghan, co-founder of Elevation Inc., an interactive marketing and technology consulting firm. “The investment simply depends on the kinds and quality of videos you want to shoot and how much content you want to create.”

The investment can be really low when content is free. In addition to producing an original fitness show and airing live bodybuilding show webcasts, which cost $7,500 and $15,000, respectively, Bodybuilding.com gets much of its content from customers and product manufacturers, videos that demonstrate crunches, explain the latest supplements or, plain and simple, show off amazing physiques. “Some people are in the mindset of doing TV, thinking they need $1 million to do a show,” says Ryan DeLuca, CEO of Bodybuilding.com, which first posted online videos in 2000. “But online video is just not overly expensive.”

Shmuel Gniwisch, CEO of Ice.com, which is readying an online show, puts it simply: “It has become cheap and ridiculously easy to do.”

Annnnnnnnd...action!
So with the confluence of online video sites extremely popular with eager Internet users, the social networking phenomenon, greater adoption of broadband Internet access, and inexpensive technology, e-retailers have begun embracing video, adding to their sites clips of product demonstrations, customer reviews, fitness lessons, girl talk, practical jokes-the list goes on. And some retailers are launching online TV channels that include not only recorded shows but live broadcasts.

Online video, however, is not for all retailers. While many products or merchants lend themselves to moving pictures, others may not. The same can be said for the potential buyers of certain types of products-some may seek and enjoy online video, others may see no need for it whatsoever. As such, adopting online video requires careful consideration of an e-retailer’s image, products and customers, as well as the online design actions of its competitors, industry observers say.

Netflix Inc. and video, for example, are a natural fit. The DVD rental colossus last year launched Previews, a personalized section on its e-commerce site that enables subscribers to watch movie trailers. The section consolidates all movie trailers in one area, one click away from the site’s home page. Netflix’s proprietary recommendation software chooses the trailers and the order in which they are shown based on individual members’ movie rental and movie rating histories. The previews run sequentially and without interruption. Icons for “previous,” “pause” and “next” enable members to jump to the next trailer or watch one again.

“The Previews section is like every viewer in a movie theater seeing a different series of trailers based on their personal tastes,” says chief product officer Neil Hunt. Netflix members can add movies to their rental queues directly from the Previews page and watch trailers as often as they wish as part of their Netflix subscription. The company has close to 10,000 movie trailers online for its movie buffs.

DVDs and video: a coosome twosome. So, what about, say, jewelry? Aren’t images enough? Maybe add a little image rotating functionality? Perhaps. But there’s plenty more that can be done with online video and jewelry to keep customers on an e-commerce site longer, inform and entertain them, and entice them to come back for more online video-not to mention make purchases, Gniwisch says.

Next month the e-retailer will be launching Ice TV, a regular show featuring company staff and outside designers discussing jewelry trends, style guides, items for sale and more. Themed shows in the can or waiting in the wings include wedding engagements, trends (“What’s Melting the Ice”), and a look at what celebrities are wearing, designed to drive customers to Ice.com’s sister site, SparkleLikeTheStars.com.

“The Internet by its nature creates barriers between shoppers and products. Online video enables us to remove barriers,” Gniwisch says. “Shoppers can see what it looks like on people, what to wear with it-web pages get a life of their own instead of just presenting a more static view.”

The retailer plans to post the shows on social networking venues such as YouTube, Yahoo Video and AOL Video. “They get free content, we get the free publicity,” Gniwisch says. “They are looking for beautiful, engaging content, and we have shows about what is new and hot in jewelry, a topic of interest to many video site visitors.”

To create the videos, Ice.com has hired a freelance cameraman, who runs the retailer about $400 for a couple hours of filming. “It is so simple to edit movies and do lighting,” Gniwisch says. “We have created an area within the office that is acceptable, and we purchased lighting, editing software, a suped-up Apple computer-it is amazing what you can do today with virtually nothing.”

To date, Ice.com has invested less than $50,000 in its online video efforts: creating its in-house “studio,” making the aforementioned purchases, including the studio, the freelance cameraman and staff time. “I just wish we had more time,” Gniwisch says.

Online video is huge
Time is not an obstacle at Bodybuilding.com, where using online video to draw visitors is a strategic priority.

Bodybuilding.com is two entities: one for shopping, and one for providing fitness information, guidance and resources in various formats, from text to images to podcasts to videos. The e-retailer has more than 400 regular content contributors, about 98% of whom, the company estimates, submit materials in a variety of formats for free. It pays a few contributors for videos, but they are among the top trainers and bodybuilders, CEO DeLuca says.

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