Retailers Must ‘Think Visual’

Among the many albums released by legendary rock band The Kinks, “Think Visual” stands as a forgettable collection of generic hard rock songs released in the mid-1980s, when the British Invasion pioneers were long past their creative prime and worn down from years of infighting. However, while the music of “Think Visual” may hold little importance, retailers would be wise to pay close attention to the admonishment of the album’s title.

Consumers are becoming increasingly visually oriented in their daily online lives, and expect online retailers to play an active role in providing a visual Internet experience. According to a new study from The e-Tailing Group and Invodo, two in three consumers watch product videos some or all of the time when they encounter them, with close to half (45%) having watched five or more of these videos in the past three months. Product videos are especially popular in categories with complex items that require education and demonstration, such as consumer electronics, computer hardware/software and automotive.

In addition, consumers who watch a product video before making a purchase are more likely to feel confident about the purchase, less likely to return items after the purchase is done, and have higher levels of engagement with websites, retailers and brands. And consumers indicate high levels of interest in viewing product videos on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

So, let’s take these results and put them into the broader visual landscape where retailers are now doing business, whether they choose to actively participate or not. There is a reason ISPs keep offering more and more high-speed bandwidth to their customers, and it’s not to view pages of text more quickly. Beyond downloading entire TV shows, movies, concerts, etc., consumers are also engaging with video content on video-sharing sites, social networks, news sites and almost every other type of site you can think of.

A digital screen more naturally lends itself to viewing video than reading text, even more so as screen sizes continue to shrink and mobile devices become the preferred means of engaging with digital content. The rapid growth of Internet-enabled mobile devices also means that consumers are now integrating the digital experience into their daily “physical” lives, and video content much more seamlessly fits into the flow of consumer activity (such as shopping in a store) than text or even photo content.

Retailers need to consider these factors when thinking visually (I hate to correct the grammar of a master songwriter like Ray Davies, but anyway...). Beyond placing more product videos on their e-commerce sites, retailers should fully integrate video into the omni-channel shopping experience they offer consumers. Imagine an in-store customer scanning a product barcode with their smartphone and a video explaining all of its features and functions popping up. Or a customer who contacts a live chat agent with questions about the new home entertainment system they bought having links to detailed demonstration videos instantly sent to them? Customers of home improvement retailers would surely appreciate quick, mobile-friendly access to instructional videos in the middle of DIY projects.

The need for well-written text and sharp, clear product images on retail e-commerce sites is not going away anytime soon. But video is the wave of the future, and the future is now.

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