The dawning of a new era in online shopping

By Mark Blair, Brightcove’s SVP International25 July, 2018

The era of the impulse buy, which lasted roughly between the end of post-war austerity in the 1950s (when there were very few goods in the shops to choose from) and today’s picture of enlightened shoppers doing detailed research before buying new products and services, appears to be well and truly over.

Retail brands that simply put clothes on racks or shelves in-store and wait for shoppers to appear are in danger; those that consider the role they can play in helping consumers source a product that’s exactly right for them and then making it easy to buy will thrive.

Video will play an increasingly important role in clothes retailing because it is so instrumental in supporting shoppers in their mission to make the right choices and get the most from their hard-earned budgets. Not only can video create a positive feeling towards an item of clothing when it is shown being worn by someone who’s lifestyle and personal brand a shopper respects, but it can also reduce the time taken to research individual items by showing it, rather than telling consumers about it in words.

This adoption of video by online clothing retailers follows the growth of the medium in almost every other area of life, from fitness workouts and recipes to technical manuals and how-to guides for crafts.

With statistics showing that people retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to 10% when reading it in text, it’s clear that video is the way forward for retailers who want to retain their customer base. But research shows expectations from video are changing hugely in line with demographic shifts and technological savviness, meaning that brands need to act quickly if they are not to be left behind.

The growing role of video

The sheer power of technology enables video to be the primary medium of communication. While filming, storing and sharing video used to be a resource hungry, expensive and slow process, it now enables retail brands to represent new clothes in attractive and meaningful ways extremely quickly.

Our recent research with 2,000 UK consumers demonstrates that there is growing acceptance - and indeed expectations - of video that can express even more than the proverbial picture that tells a thousand words. And there is a noticeable trend for younger people to seek out videos than older generations, highlighting the need for retailers to adjust their proposition in the face of changing demographics and their use of technology. A quarter (25%) of consumers aged 18-24 said they expected to see a video of a product before buying it, compared to 21% of 25-34 year olds, 14% of 35-44 year olds, 9% of 45-54 year olds and just 6% of 55 and overs.

Videos can help with the time-consuming process of researching which products to select, which according to our research involves 29 different steps, an average hour and 20 minutes of mulling things over and then getting the opinions of two other people.

Those in the 18-24 year old age group are less likely on average to carry out basic checks on our list of 29 steps, such as whether a brand offers free delivery. Instead, research for younger people involves seeking advice from friends and family, watching videos and searching for ideas on social media channels such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

Understanding these changes in motivations to buy amongst younger generations is important, because clothing retail brands may need to change the offers they make in order to entice shoppers in the future. In our experience, there are three main categories where video is making a difference to consumers researching and buying clothes: viewing, sharing and virtualisation.

The first is viewing videos, either on brands’ own websites or on channels such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Videos can show models sporting new designs on a catwalk, celebrities and influencers wearing the clothes or simply individuals modelling outfits in an office or home setting.

A trend that is just emerging is for clothes retailers to move away from using YouTube channels to host videos to providing their own video player via their websites. As well as providing more control over content - and when and where it is accessed - this avoids the risk of consumers being served inappropriate pre-video advertisements, or indeed ‘next up’ suggested videos.

Celebrities and story-telling

On average, 41% of 18-24 year olds thought that seeing a celebrity wearing certain clothes made them seem more luxurious, highlighting the value that influencers can wield.

Interestingly, videos that tell a story are also more popular with younger shoppers than older people. Almost three in 10 (29%) of 18-24 year olds said they preferred videos with a narrative, such as a fashion show, than a video that is a product on its own. This fell to just 9% of over 55s, demonstrating a change in expectations from videos across the generations that retailers need to be aware of.

Younger consumers are more likely to share such videos with friends and family and to adopt apps that enable them to virtualise themselves wearing prospective purchases. These videos can also be shared with people whose opinions they value.

It’s a question of trust

Trust in others’ opinions is of growing importance when sourcing and buying new clothes. Yet ‘crowd-sourced’ reviews where people rate size, quality and service reliability may not be as important to shoppers of the future as it is today.

Shoppers in the 18-24 year old category interviewed as part of our research were far more likely to send pictures or videos of themselves ‘wearing’ prospective purchases to friends and family than older generations. Nearly one in five (19%) 18-24 year olds said they embarked on this activity while buying clothes, compared to just 5% of 45-54 year olds and 2% of over 55s.

Further to this, almost a quarter (23%) said they would screenshot an outfit and send it to a friend or WhatsApp group to seek opinions before buying, but only 4% of 45-54 year olds and 2% of over 55s would do so.

Clothing retail brands may need to find ways to regain the trust of younger generations in the traditional review process as well as understand the power of video in sharing views of outfits, whether worn by models or as virtual garments by prospective purchasers themselves.

Brand safety and integrity are important issues for clothing retailers competing for business. As has been shown in other areas of ecommerce, consumers are very quick to act and condemn when they identify even a whiff of a fake review.

Looking to the future

It’s often said that data is the new currency of success, but this is normally expressed in terms of vendors understanding customer behaviour and inviting them to buy products or services that appear to fit their needs and requirements the best.

Today’s consumers are more likely to be actively looking for the products they want to buy, via the channels that they prefer. Even when they do visit websites direct, they are likely to be undertaking comparisons with other vendors.

Clothing brands that make it easy to view, share and virtualise using video in order to stand out from the crowd will be the winners.

The recent royal wedding was an international broadcasting phenomenon, but also a fantastic example of how video can encourage others to buy into a celebrity lifestyle. The net value to brands that Meghan Markle endorses is estimated to be 150 million pounds, according to David Haigh, chief executive officer of Brand Finance.

Understanding how sentiment and emotional attachment of this kind can work in practice, and how it can be expressed via video, is an emerging discipline – but one that all retail brands will need to get to grips with in the very near future.

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