The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
A photo. Some text. A shopping cart button.
It’s the setup you’ve been used to since you were Internet-years-old.
Electronic commerce has existed since the 1970s, passing through a prescient experimental phase of telephone-based TV shopping in the 1980s, and setting the tone for the future with Stephan Schambach’s 1990s invention of the first standardized online shopping software. US consumers spent $861.12 billion with online merchants in 2020. By making the “add to cart” ritual so familiar, it may seem like we’ve seen it all when it comes to digital commerce.
But hold onto your hats, because signs are emerging that we’re on the verge of the next online sales phase, akin to the 19th century leap from still photos to moving pictures.
If I’m right, with its standard product shots, conventional e-commerce will soon start to seem dull and dated in many categories compared to products sold via interactive video and further supported with post-purchase video.
Now is the time to prep for a filmed future, and fortunately, the trail has already been blazed for us by home shopping leader QVC, which took over television and then digitally remastered itself for the web, perfecting the art of video-based sales. Today, we’re going to deconstruct what’s happening on QVC, and how and why you may need to learn to apply it as an SEO, local SEO, or business owner — sooner than you think.
Why video sales?
A series of developments and disruptions point to a future in which many product sales will be facilitated via video. Let’s have a look at them:
First, we all know that humans love video content so much, they’ve caused YouTube to be the #2 search engine.
Google has documented the growth of video searches for “which (product) should I buy”.
When we look beyond the US, we encounter the phenomenon that livestreaming e-commerce video has become in China, highly-monopolized by Alibaba’s Taobao and creating celebrities out of its hosts.
Meanwhile, within the US, the pandemic caused a 44% increase in digital shopping spend between 2019-2020. We moved online last year for both our basic needs and nonessentials like never before.
The pandemic has also caused physical local brands to implement digital shopping, blurring former online-to-offline (O2O) barriers to such a degree that Internet transactions are no longer the special property of virtual e-commerce companies. This weirdly-dubbed “phygital” phenomenon — which is making Google the nexus of Maps-based local product sales — can be seen as a boon to local brands that take advantage of the search engine’s famed user-to-business proximity bias to rank their inventory for nearby customers.
At least, Google hopes to be the nexus of all this. The truth is, Google is reacting strongly right now to consumers starting half of their product searches on Amazon instead of on Google. Are you seeing ads everywhere these days informing you that Google is the best place to shop? So am I. With that massive, lucrative local business index in their back pocket and with GMB listings long supporting video uploads, Google has recently:
Acquired Pointy to integrate with retail POS systems
Made product listings free
Amped up their nearby shopping filter
Attempted to insert themselves directly into consumers’ curbside pickup routines while integrating deeply into data partnerships with major grocery brands
Experienced massive growth in local business reviews, and just released an algorithmic update specific to product review content (look out, Amazon!)
Experimented with detecting products in YouTube videos amid rumors flying about product results appearing in YouTube
Been spotted experimenting beyond influencer cameo videos to product cameos in knowledge panels
Meanwhile, big brands everywhere are getting into video sales. Walmart leapt ahead in the shoppable video contest with their debut of Cookshop, in which celebrity chefs cook while consumers click on the interactive video cues to add ingredients to their shopping carts.
Crate & Barrel is tiptoeing into the pool with quick product romance videos that resemble perfume ads, in which models lounge about on lovely accent chairs, creating the aura of a lifestyle to be lived. Nordstrom is filming bite-sized home shopping channel-style product videos for their website and YouTube channel, complete with hosts.
And, smaller brands are experimenting with video-supported sales content, too. Check out Green Building Supply’s product videos for their eco-friendly home improvement inventory (with personable hosts). Absolute Domestics shows how SABs can use video to support sales of services rather than goods, as in this simple but nicely-produced video on what to expect from their cleaning service. Meanwhile, post-sales support videos are a persuasive value add from Purl Soho to help you master knitting techniques needed when you buy a pattern from them.
To sum up, at the deep end of the pool, live-streamed e-commerce and shoppable video are already in use by big brands, but smaller brands can wade in with basic static goods-and-services videos on their websites and social channels to support sales.
Now is the time to look for inspiration about what video sales could do for brands you market, and nobody — nobody — has more experience with all of this than QVC.
“I didn’t even know QVC still existed,” more than one of my marketing colleagues has responded when I’ve pointed to the 35-year-old home shopping empire as the way of the future.
The truth is, I’d probably be sleeping on QVC, too, if it weren’t for my Irish ancestry having drawn me to their annual St. Patrick’s Day sales event for the past 30+ years to enjoy their made-in-Ireland product lineup.
About seven times more people with Irish roots live in the United States than on the actual island of Ireland, yet the shopping channel’s holiday broadcast is one of the few televised events tailored to our famous nostalgia for our old country home. My family tunes in every March for the craic of examining Aran Crafts sweaters, Nicholas Mosse pottery, Belleek china, and Solvar jewelry, while munching on cake made from my great-grandmother Cotter’s recipe. Sometimes we get so excited, we buy things, but for the past few years, I’ve mainly been actively studying how QVC sells these items with such stunning success.
“Stunning” is the word and the wakeup call
QVC, which is a subsidiary of Quarate Retail International, generated $11.47 billion in 2020 and as early as 2015, nearly half of those sales were taking place online — consistently placing the brand in the top 10 for e-commerce sales, including mobile sales. The company has 16.5 million consolidated customers worldwide, and marketers’ mouths will surely water to learn that 90% of QVC’s revenue comes from loyal repeat shoppers. The average QVC shopper makes between 22-25 purchases per year!
Figures like these, paired with QVC’s graceful pas de deux incorporating both TV remotes and mobile devices should command our attention long enough to study what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.
“Enjoy visiting Ireland, but buy your sweaters on QVC!”
While supplies last, I want to invite you to spend the next 10 minutes watching this Internet rebroadcast of a televised segment selling an Aran Crafts sweater, with your marketer’s eye on the magic happening in it. Watch this while imagining how it might translate as a static product or service video for a brand you’re marketing.
TL;DW? Here’s the breakdown of how QVC sells:
QVC hosts are personalities, many of whom have devoted fan bases. They’re trained in the products they sell, often visiting manufacturing plants to school themselves. When on air, the host juggles promoting a product and interacting with models, guest hosts, callers, and off-screen analysts. The host physically interacts with the product, highlights its features in abundant detail, and makes their sales pitch.
For our purposes, digital marketers are fully aware of the phenomenon of social influencers taking on celebrity status and being sought after as sales reps. At a more modest scale, small e-commerce companies (or any local business) that’s adopted digital sales models should identify one or more staff members with the necessary talents to become a video host for the brand.
You’ll need a spot of luck to secure relatable hosts. Just keep in mind that QVC’s secret formula is to get the viewer to ask, “Is this me?”, and that should help you match a host to your audience. This example of a nicely-done, low-key, densely-detailed presentation of a camping chair by a plainspoken host shows how simple and effective a short product video can be.
Many QVC segments feature a representative from the brand associated with the product being sold. In our example, the guest host from Aran Crafts is a member of her family’s business, signing in remotely (due to the pandemic) to share the company’s story and build romance around the product.
Depending on the model you’re marketing, having a rep from any brand you resell would be an extra trust signal to convey via video sales. Think of the back-and-forth chat in a podcast and you’re almost there. Small retailers just reselling big brands may face a challenge here, but if you have a good portion of inventory from smaller companies and specialty or local manufacturers, definitely invite them to step in front of the camera with your host, as higher sales will benefit you both.
Frequently, sales presentations include one or more models further interacting with the product. In our example, models are wearing these Irish sweaters while strolling around Ashford Castle. More romance.
Other segments feature models as subjects of various cosmetic treatments or as demonstrators of how merchandise is to be used. Models and demonstrators used to be standard in major American department stores. QVC brilliantly televised this incredible form of persuasion at about the same time it disappeared from real-world shopping in the US. Their sales figures prove just how huge the desire still is to see merchandise worn and used before buying.
For our scenario of creating online sales videos, such models could be a convincing extra in selling certain types of products, and many products should be demonstrated by the host or guest host. One thing I’ve not seen QVC do that I think e-commerce and O2O local brands definitely could do is a UGC approach of making your customer your model, demoing how they use your products in their real-world lives. Almost everybody can film themselves these days.
There are no live callers in our example, but QVC traditionally increases interactivity with the public with on-air phone calls.
If your sales videos are static, you’re not quite to the point of having to learn the art of handling live calls, but your product support phone and SMS numbers and links should be featured in every video.
“If you go up there with the intent to sell, it’s all going to come crashing down around you…The real goal of QVC…. was to feel like a conversation between the host, the product specialist (us), and ‘Her’ – the woman age 35 to 65 who is sitting at home watching television.” – I went on air at QVC and sold something to America
There’s an element of magic to how QVC vends such a massive volume of products, but it’s all data-based. They’ve invested so heavily in understanding customer demographics that they’ve mastered exactly how to sell to them. Your consumer base may be totally different, but the key is to know your customer so well that you understand the exact approach to take when offering them your inventory of goods and services.
Another excerpt from the article cited above really gets this point across when talking about guest hosts:
“Our experienced guests tend to focus on the product. But our best guests are focused on the viewer. Is this for the viewer? Everything goes through that filter. And if you do that, everything comes out more naturally.”
Here at Moz, there may be Whiteboard Friday hosts you especially enjoy learning from. As a business owner or marketer, your job will be to identify talented people who can blend your brand culture with consumer research and translate that into a form of vending infotainment that succeeds with your particular shoppers. Successful QVC hosts make upwards of $500,000 a year for being so good at what they do.
Being good, in the sweater sample, means pairing QVC’s customer-centric, conversational selling method with USPs and an aura of scarcity. I’ll paraphrase the cues I heard:
“These sweaters are made exclusively for QVC” — a USP regarding rarity.
“Enjoy visiting Ireland, but buy your sweaters on QVC” — this is a strong USP based on having better prices than a traveler would find if buying direct from the manufacturer.
“Reviews read like a love letter to this sweater” — incorporating persuasive UGC into the pitch.
“Half of our supply is already gone; don’t wait to order if you want one of these” —- this creates a sense of urgency to prompt customers to buy right away.
The example presentation probably looked quite seamless and simple to you. But what’s actually going on “behind the scenes” of a QVC sales segment is that the host is receiving earpiece cues on exactly how to shape the pitch.
QVC’s analytics track what’s called a “feverline” of reaction to each word the host says and each movement they make. Producers can tell in real time which verbal signals and gestures are causing sales spikes, and communicate to the host to repeat them. One host, for example, dances repeatedly while demoing food products because more customers buy when he does so.
For most of the brands you market, you’re not likely to be called upon to deliver analytical data on par with QVC’s mission control-style setup, but you will want to learn about video analytics and do A/B testing to measure performance of product pages with video vs. those with static images. As you progress, analytics should be able to tell you which hosts, guests, and products are yielding the best ROI.
Three O2O advantages
In a large 2020 survey of local business owners and marketers, Moz found that more than half of respondents intend to maintain pandemic-era services of convenience beyond the hoped-for end of COVID-19. I’d expect this number to be even higher if we reran the survey in mid-2021. Online-to-offline shopping falls in this category and readers of my column know I’m always looking for advantages specific to local businesses.
I see three ways local brands have a leg up on their virtual e-commerce cousins, including behemoths like Amazon and even QVC:
1. Limited local competition = better SERP visibility
Virtual e-commerce brands have to compete against a whole country or the world for SERP visibility. Google Shopping’s “available nearby” filter cuts your market down to local map-size, making it easier to capture the attention of customers nearest your business. If you’re one of the only local brands supporting sales of your goods and services via videos on your website, you’re really going to stand out in the cities you serve.
2. Limited local inventory = more convincing authenticity
QVC is certainly an impressive enterprise, but one drawback of their methodology, at least in my eyes, is that their hosts have to be endlessly excited about millions of products. The same host who is exuding enthusiasm one minute over an electric toothbrush is breathless with admiration over a flameless candle the next. While QVC’s amazingly loyal customers are clearly not put off by the bottomless supply of energy over every single product sold, I find I don’t quite believe that the joy is continuously genuine. In my recognition of the sales pitch tactics, the company feels big and remote to me.
70% of Americans say they want to shop small. Your advantage in marketing a local business is that it will have limited inventory and an owner and staff who can realistically convey authenticity to the video viewer about products the business has hand-selected to sell. A big chain supermarket wants me to believe all of its apples are crisp, but my local farmer telling me in a product video that this year’s crop is crisper than last year’s makes a world of believable difference.
3. Even a small boost in conversions = a big difference for local brands
Backlinko recently compiled this list of exciting video marketing statistics that I hope you’ll read in full. I want to excerpt a few that really caught my eye:
84% of consumers cite video as the convincing factor in purchases
Product videos can help e-commerce stores increase sales by up to 144%
96% of people have watched an explainer video to better understand a product they’re evaluating
The Local Search Association found that 53% of people contact a business after watching one of their videos and 71% of people who made a purchase had watched an online video from that brand
Including filmed content on an e-commerce page can increase the average order value by 50+%
Video on a landing page can grow its conversion rate by up to 80%
If the company you’re promoting is one of the only ones in your local market to seize the opportunities hinted at by these statistics, think of what a difference it would make to see conversions (including leads and sales) rise by even a fraction of these numbers. Moreover, if the standout UX and helpfulness of the “v-commerce” environment you create makes you memorable to customers, you could grow local loyalty to new levels as the best resource in a community, generating a recipe for retention that, if not quite as astonishing as QVC’s, is pretty amazing for your region.
Go n-éirí leat — good luck!
Like you, I’m longing for the time when all customers can safely return to shopping locally in-person, but I do agree with fellow analysts predicting that the taste we’ve gotten for the convenience of shipping and local home delivery, curbside pickup, and tele-meetings is one that consumers won’t simply abandon.
Sales videos tackle one of digital marketing’s largest challenges by letting customers see people interacting with products when they can’t do it themselves, and 2021 is a good year to begin your investigation of this promising medium. My top tip is to spend some time this week watching QVC on TV and examining how they’ve parlayed live broadcasts into static
product videos that sell inventory like hotcakes on their website. I’m wishing you the luck and intrepidity of the Irish in your video ventures!
Ready to learn more about video marketing? Try these resources:
Need to learn more about local search marketing before you start filming yourself and your products? Read The Essential Local SEO Strategy Guide.