February 2, 2001, 12:00 AM

How product demos are helping shoppers kick the tires on the web

(Page 3 of 3)

Eventually, Internet retailers that want to present more sophisticated product demonstrations will have to offer high and low bandwidth paths to their sites and direct customers accessing their sites accordingly, says Dykema. Only 3% of the Internet retailers surveyed by Forrester currently offer high and low bandwidth access, about 38% say they plan to offer high and low bandwidth pathways, 58% do not offer both pathways and the rest were uncertain about what type of pathway they offered to their site.

Despite the high percentage of Internet retailers contemplating separate pathways to their sites for broadband and narrowband users, broadband will first have to achieve critical mass before thoughts are turned into actions, a process that could take several years. “Broadband strategies are top of mind, but at the bottom of to-dos,” Dykema says in her report. “Rearchitecting for broadband remains a distant dream.”

Nevertheless, Egghead.com’s Reedy is bullish that Internet retailers will embrace interactive demonstrations, especially for products that represent the majority of their sales. “Rich product information is the number one customer need when shopping online,” he contends.

Fly or flop?

Using interactive product demonstrations for the least popular items, however, does not make sense, because those items do not attract significant traffic, which limits the opportunity for incremental sales.

“In technology, there are only a handful of product types, such as PCs and software, that generate about 80% of sales,” continues Reedy, who adds Egghead.com began running interactive demos from Hewlett-Packard late last year. Egghead’s goal is to incorporate about 200 online demonstrations into its site for its most popular product lines. The online retailer intends to conduct a study in a few months to determine the effectiveness of those product demonstrations.

As attractive as interactive product demonstrations appear at first glance, they are so new the jury remains out on whether they can live up to their hype. That means that the industry will be watching pioneers such as Egghead.com closely for clues as to whether interactive product demonstrations fly or flop.  



A demo of the demo

At first, consumers logging on to an Internet retailer’s site featuring interactive product demonstrations will not notice anything different about how the product is displayed-that is, until they click on the product demo icon.

To draw consumers into its product demonstrations, Impressia’s POP-i service shows an enlarged image of the demo icon that makes a popping noise. A consumer who clicks the icon will see an image of the product. A menu in the upper left corner allows consumers to zoom in on a frontal image of the product and move the image back and forth and get a side view.

A video clip that presents an overview of the product uses Flash, a sophisticated graphical software. A stream of taglines and slogans appears and dissolves around an image of the product as an audio soundtrack describes key features. A text window detailing the main features of the product is also available.

ProductPOP grabs the consumer’s attention with a flashing icon that says “Product Preview.” After clicking on the icon, consumers are presented with a 360-degree, three-dimensional view of the product. A control panel allows the consumer to spin the product right or left or to let the program do so automatically.

A sample of the product’s functionality is included in the menu. For example, a demonstration of the Palm Pilot Vx lets consumers use a mouse to scrawl on the PDA’s window to demonstrate how the graffiti character recognition feature works. Detailed text windows describe the size and weight of the product and the product’s benefits. (A ProductPOP sample demo is available at ProductPOP.com.)

Implementing an interactive product demonstration is relatively painless. ProductPOP says an interactive demonstration can be implemented in about 15 hours.

“With vendors focusing on creating their own web presence and Internet retailers focused on creating a consumer-friendly shopping environment, there is an opening for companies like ours to bring the concept of product demonstrations to the online world,” says Bill Brown, CEO and co-founder of ProductPOP. “It’s all about delivering more information to the customer to make the buying decision easier.”



Peter Lucas is a Chicago-based freelance business writer.

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