December 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

Blending video and e-commerce

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“Our kind of shoppers and visitors love the message board and community concept. Before video they were submitting articles, but now they submit videos because they have the knowledge and the bodies to show things in video that they cannot communicate as well in an article,” he explains. “In return we give them credit for purchases, and that motivates them to keep writing or filming, which gives them a sense of helping others.”

What makes really stand out, though, are its originally produced programs, including Bodybuilding Fit Show, and its live webcasts of bodybuilding shows, many of which cannot be seen without actually being at the event. The e-retailer outsources production of its original program to a local production company, paying about $7,500 per episode. To air webcasts it costs the merchant about $15,000, which includes money for extra bandwidth for live streaming of video.’s Travis Chapman shoots and compiles the Bodybuilding Fit Show and Tyler Williams is the retailer’s video editor.

Placing a video on a site is just like posting a picture, Williams says. “You create a digital file of a video using any kind of basic software, like Adobe Premiere,” Williams explains. “Then you upload the file to your server and embed it into a page, which you can do with a little simple code or by embedding a program like Flash Player into your site. It’s not hard.”

Catalog comes to life
Far from the world of virtually naked musclemen, online video is being used to highlight designer fashion-or rather, how a multi-channel retailer creates a famous catalog of designer fashion and other merchandise.

The Christmas Book catalog from Neiman Marcus is known for its colorful, full-page imagery and elegant design. It also has an avid following of shoppers. Responding to queries and suggestions by customers and the mainstream media, Neiman Marcus last year decided to show shoppers just how The Christmas Book is made, bringing it to life on its e-commerce site via online video.

“The week we launch our Christmas catalog we get a lot of national media coverage. So for the past few years we’ve been putting together video news releases,” says Brendan Hoffman, president and CEO of Neiman Marcus Direct. “Bringing video to the web site was a natural step in the evolution of this concept.”

The online video of “the making of” appears on screen in a prominent position to the left of the catalog cover. It does not start automatically, though, giving shoppers the choice to activate the technology or not. The retailer outsourced the production of the video for what Hoffman describes as a “fairly nominal” cost, adding that online video “is not a major investment and involves very little financial risk.”

The retailer had been considering adding online video for a couple years. But Hoffman at first was skeptical, worrying about the effects the technology could have on shoppers’ web experiences. “I was reluctant to put video on the web site because I wasn’t convinced it wouldn’t slow down the shopping experience,” Hoffman says. “Historically we’ve seen much of our shopping being done during the work week-people at home still were using dial-up and we did not want to burden them. During the last nine months or so, we’ve seen more shopping in the evenings. The penetration of broadband has increased, and that allowed us to put additional content like video on the site.”

Neiman Marcus has always been about the theater of what goes around gifts, the excitement of gifts, Hoffman adds. “The online video is a great step toward helping create an in-store experience online.”

While some retailers are using online video to try to recreate the in-store experience on the web, others are going a whole different route, zeroing in on key customers and entertaining and involving them to keep them coming back for more entertainment, and merchandise.

Fly like an eagle
American Eagle Outfitters launched a new aerie intimate apparel and sleepware line for teens and 20-somethings last year with online videos designed to engage shoppers with their peers. The video section, called “aerie Tuesdays on CW,” adds to an already graphic-rich, interactive site. The aerie line is sponsoring Tuesday night showings of the Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars on the CW television network. displays clips of the TV shows and American Eagle’s sponsoring commercials.

The retailer then has a group of the shows’ teen girl fans, decked out in aerie clothing, discussing the latest developments on the shows as well as AE apparel, worn by some characters on the programs. makes extensive use of Flash technology to provide interactive mouse-over navigation to reveal product details and displays of outfits on characters shown in the clips and commercials-a merchandising tactic aimed at young online buyers who like to coordinate outfits but don’t always take the time to navigate throughout a site to find them.

Young customers want content; they’re going to MySpace and YouTube for entertainment and socializing, says Kathy Savitt, who leads digital strategy and as chief marketing officer. “But TV advertising alone can be tough, especially with more people using DVRs to remove commercials. But we know that TV is still an important part of our customers’ lives. So we did the aerie on Tuesdays campaign,” she says. “The CW network leveraged our marketing platform where our customer is a core demographic for them; and we created discovery and awareness for them throughout our stores with signage and products. Then we got from them the ability to bring together viewers from the demographic in unscripted chat sessions where they would discuss the show plotlines and such. The girls are wearing our clothes, and the clips run in 30-second spots coming out of parts of the show but before commercials.”

American Eagle still is measuring the impact of its campaign, but to date it finds it to be a major traffic driver to as well as a driver of conversions, though it will not release specific numbers. “We want to be a destination for both shopping and content to strengthen our brand relationship with our customers,” Savitt adds. “The video inspires them by seeing others’ fashion choices throughout the country, and seeing our products in a context that is compelling to them.”

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