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Creating the Vine videos is relatively easy: a staffer shoots one with her smartphone, oftentimes when the product is already set up for a photo shoot. But they occasionally take time, especially when done as a time-lapse where the products are reset for each frame, Gregonis says. Overall, though, the retailer thinks the format is necessary for reaching its hip, young consumers.
"Our customers are making more videos and we're getting to the point where it's expected to connect videos to the product," she says. "We like Vine because it's instant, no fuss and really authentic to our brand."
New web video tools keep popping up. YouTube just in December released the live streaming feature SparkFun uses to host its monthly video events. It is free and available to any user in good standing, a spokeswoman for YouTube's owner, Google Inc., says. The search engine giant also now allows YouTube users to record live sessions on its "Hangouts" social video chatting service that they can edit and share after the chat has ended, she says, adding that Google will also help manage those "Hangouts On Air" sessions for a brand for an undisclosed fee.
YouTube last year also launched "shoppable" videos as a special feature for consumer brands active on YouTube. The brands do not pay YouTube, but pay vendors to custom-build the shoppable video pages as they would for custom sites, the spokeswoman says. As a result, the videos can take many forms. Unilever's hair care brand TRESemmé, for example, displays to the right of a "How to tame frizz" video two hair sprays and an anti-frizz crème. Clicking on any of those items—which a shopper can do while the video plays—pulls up details about the product underneath. Clicking a Buy Now button then shows the retailers that sell that product and their prices; after selecting one, a new window opens with the item in that retailer's shopping cart.
Verizon Wireless plans to offer shoppable videos on VerizonWireless.com this year, though not via YouTube. The seller of cell phones, accessories and data plans aims to update its web site video player to Invodo's InPlayer, which includes functionality similar to YouTube for shoppers to browse and add items to a cart while watching a video, says Joan Pagliocco, associate director of consumer Internet sales.
"People who watch a video are far more likely to add a product to the cart than a person who doesn't—sometimes we see really big numbers, 20% or 40%, depending on the [Verizon] device," Pagliocco says.
Verizon already pays Invodo to design and create its videos, which can sometimes include multiple scenes and actors and cost around $100,000 apiece, Pagliocco says. Those videos are designed with reuse in mind. Since mid-2013, the retailer has edited and repurposed video content several places online, she says. For example, a video about a new cell phone will also include parts featuring the accessories that go with it. Then Verizon can, with minimal extra effort, clip out the part about a headset, for instance, and add it to the headset's product page. "The accessory team will never do a $100,000 video for a $100 accessory, so they're delighted to get that little video for their product page," she says. "This is a very important part of our content strategy."
Verizon also records voice-overs to make Spanish-language versions of its videos, Pagliocco says. From one original video, it can then share about 10 versions across its e-commerce sites and on social media, she says.
The retailer spends close to $5 million annually on videos, she says. While she declines to share the exact returns, she says they are significant. "If it doesn't add to our conversion rates, we say, 'Why are we investing?'"
More than 87% of U.S. Internet users—roughly 189 million Americans—watch videos online, according to data from web measurement firm comScore Inc. Retailers that want to reach them must find creative ways to keep their videos fresh, engaging and connected to shopping.