Michal Kalinowski/
Former CEO EDISEN Group

It is common knowledge that physical store visits are dropping dramatically, but retail sales value is steadily and consistently growing both in Europe and in the US. E-commerce only amounts to 8% of the overall retail industry, which means that physical stores still sell a lot.

How does that work? The underlying phenomenon is that the product search process has changed. Instead of wandering around busy shopping streets, customers browse online. Leaving business and delivery models aside, it is clear that online browsing is the new window-shopping and every retailer needs to be an e-tailer.

The situation described above has huge implications for both traditional retailers and pure e-tailers.

A Paradox

Brick-and-mortar retailers need to step up content online because consumers are increasingly taking purchasing decisions behind their screens before heading to the outlet to buy. Online retailers, on the other hand, need to avoid the phenomenon of showrooming (customers going to check out products in-store before buying online), which disrupts the shopping experience and leaves the window open for the competition of both e-commerce and other physical retailers.

But why is it that after all this desktop research customers still prefer to get out of their apartments to purchase in-store? According to PwC Total Retail 2015, the two main answers to the question are the immediate availability and the opportunity to look-and-feel the product. Communication-wise, not much can be done to affect immediate availability, but improving the way in which products are described is well within our reach.

The Video Effect

Videos beat all other product descriptions hands down; they are better indexed than still images, giving a better look-and-feel of products, and show usage and utility. They can increase transparency and trust and, overall, they help to create a better, smoother, more enjoyable shopping experience. Most websites have multiple pictures, descriptions, written editorial content, some have 360° product views, but surprisingly few use product videos.

The reason behind low video usage lies in the fact that most marketers associate video communication with branding and storytelling, as shown by the Content Marketing Association:

While the branding-oriented video plays a huge part in shaping consumers attitudes before the purchasing process begins, storytelling has little power on consumers’ actual actions.  There is only one way in which retailers can generate conversion, and that is by communicating the relevance that products have to their (potential) customer. People want to know “If I buy this product, what’s in it for me?”.

Relevance is always associated with some kind of utility: a solution to a problem, an understanding of a product, concrete information. As the data shows, currently, video content is seldom related to utility, foregoing huge potential for customer impact.

Agencies are often shy in proposing longer-term, qualitative mass-production content strategies because shooting products and editorial videos requires time, effort and almost endless availability of creative ideas. Several retailers are already benefiting from being pioneers in this field, such as North-European Clas Ohlson and the global clothing giant Asos, which are experiencing decreased merchandise returns, increase in sales and even in brand equity.

This type of content works—by creating a constant, meaningful dialogue with their audience, brands can generate longstanding conversion, moving away from the classical “campaign thinking”  that makes them become the “sensational overnight celebrity” nobody will remember the next month.

I expect to see more retailers taking the leap from campaign-based to always-on communication, making video more of a hygiene factor than a fancy add-on in the world of retail. The opportunities are endless, and the best is yet to come.