May 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

Buy it on PC--or TV

Web-enabled TV, in which the TV actually takes the order via a remote rather than simply driving shoppers to their PC to purchase what’s presented on the screen, is one vision of the future from technology consulting firm Molecular Inc.

Internet Retailer

Ten years ago, shopping online was just a gleam in the eyes of a few visionaries: today, shopping via PC has become a cultural mainstay. Fast-forward another 10 years, and shopping on the Internet will likely be more prevalent than ever-partly because the PC has been joined by the television as a place to buy.

Web-enabled TV, in which the TV takes the order via a remote rather than simply driving shoppers to their PC to purchase what’s on the screen, is one vision of the future from technology consulting firm Molecular Inc. The Watertown, Mass.-based company points out that the technology to make it happen is already in place.

“We see this as truly the convergence of television with the Internet. Your TV screen becomes a computer that you can hot link to different things,” sys Darryl Gehly, vice president at Molecular. “It’s already here in some aspects but we think it is going to go further.” Gehly offers the example of TiVo and satellite TV. Now, if viewers having the TiVo service see an advertisement for a program that’s coming up, they can hit a button to automatically record that show when it comes on.

“Take that one step further and say you are watching ‘Friends.’ Ross has on a suit you like. Why, with that same technology, if my TV is connected to the web, can’t I just click to purchase it?” says Gehly. “The cable company or the satellite has my credit card information because I am paying my bills with it automatically every month. Why not just make that last connection and let me purchase the suit? Or if a commercial for a new laundry detergent comes up on my TV, why can’t I just hit a button to get a free sample mailed to me?”

Gehly notes that satellite and cable as TV programming delivery mechanisms already control what commercials a region sees, and he speculates that it won’t be too far in the future before they will be able to control the message they deliver by customer segment. Make TVs web-enabled and it’s not a stretch to imagine viewers interacting with TV in much the same way they interact with their PCs. “You could have hot linkable products on TV that are either in some kind of self-contained infomercial aspect or integrated into the program itself that you could click and purchase,” Gehly says.

One Molecular client, Showtime Network, already offers a service called Showtime Interactive that lets subscribers use a handheld device to drill down on their TV screen through programming menus to review content such as biographies of actors. It’s a media-focused offering, but Gehly points to its potential effect on interactive retail via TV. “It’s getting users in the habit of interacting with their television screen in much the same way they interact with their PC screen today,” he says. m

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