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EDITORIAL Could YouTube be the next big ecommerce platform?

YouTube: a new force in V-commerce? (Image: Shutterstock)

As more and more shoppers move online, so they are increasingly embracing video – and that is pushing new platforms to the fore as ecommerce sites.

Instagram has long been playing into the ecommerce space and this week’s launch of ‘Reels’ and ‘Shop’ tabs – to aid discovery and buying on the site – adds to the social media site’s increasing position as a quasi-marketplace.

Likewise, Pinterest’s addition of AI-powered lipstick ‘Try On’ services continue its increasing use of video to help shoppers buy things, especially in the booming online health & beauty sector.

However, it is YouTube’s rise up the ranks in retail that looks – this week at least – particularly interesting.

The video-based site was, in many ways, one of the first social networks, allowing comments and the sharing of user generated content, so it is hardly surprising that it is also making a foray in commerce.

Nor is it surprising that, with more shoppers using video to aid their shopping experience, that YouTube has a role to play.

What is interesting is just how it can be used: shedding light on how retailers from the T-shirt maker Spreadshirt, to sneaker seller Footasylum to, well, rocket scientists the European Space Agency (ESA) are all looking at the nexus of marketing, story-telling, good old-fashioned advertising and some new-fangled social commerce.

Footasylum’s tack is to create its own Big Brother-esque YouTube show – Locked In – which takes lockdown to Tier 6 for a collection of Gen X-ers and locks them up in a house – presumably with their pick of the shoes. Updated daily, the show aims to plug Footasylum’s wares through product placement and advertising and seeks to build brand the good old-fashioned way of entertaining.

What may be more interesting to the footwear retailer is how Spreadshirt is leveraging some of the lesser know features of YouTube, namely the Merch Shelf, which allows for brands to sell from below the blurb about the video – the really popular bit where people go to comment.

Spreadshirt is working with creative types who have great video content and a big YouTube following to sell bespoke Ts from this area – not least working with the European Space Agency (ESA) to add the selling of spacey merchandise to people enjoying stargazing and rocket launch videos.

Ironically, looking at selling like this is far from Rocket Science. Video is what people want – not just to be inspired and entertained, but increasingly to see how things work, what they look like, unboxing, reviews and more – and adding the ability to sell around this is something that YouTube has, to date, been slow to exploit.

The increasing interest in this kind of content as a vehicle to sell is going to prove an interesting one for the video platform and could yet see it too shake up what its dashboard looks like to make more of the social selling potential of its billions of users.

It takes YouTube into an increasingly competitive space, with marketplaces, retailers and social media sites all vying for the same eyeballs and their wallets, but YouTube has one distinct advantage; it has video on absolutely everything from the most popular TV clips right down to some of the most niche content you can imagine (NYC Subway: Canal Street Station, with 1600 total views in 15 yearsanyone?). This breadth opens it up to vast potential as a sales platform.

Much as its advertising model works to leverage all those billions of viewers, this now could be shifted towards actually allowing sales.

For many retailers this would likely be an additional and minor revenue stream, but for some it could be the makings of a very rich seam of video commerce that has yet to be fully tapped.

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