Oct 15, 2020
YouTube is asking creators to tag and track products featured in their videos as part of an “experiment” in what is potentially a major step toward fulfilling the platform’s e-commerce ambitions.
Creators have largely monetized their YouTube content from advertisements served on their videos and from YouTube Premium subscribers watching their content. Some videos include links in their descriptions to Amazon or other retailers designed to drive affiliate sales.
The video tags that YouTube is now testing are linked to analytics and sales through Google, YouTube’s parent. A Shopify integration is also being explored, according to Bloomberg. The report stated, “The goal is to convert YouTube’s bounty of videos into a vast catalog of items that viewers can peruse, click on and buy directly.”
The move comes as recorded and live-stream video shopping, often led by influencers, is becoming increasingly hyped, marked by last year’s launch of Amazon Live, Instagram’s move into videos and Walmart’s interest in TikTok.
As the largest video sharing platform, YouTube could tie product placement to unboxing videos, cooking demonstrations, make-up tutorials and how-to videos. According to a Google survey taken in February, over 70 percent of users said YouTube makes them more aware of new brands.
The news is raising hope among some users that the integration of e-commerce will reduce the number of ads on the platform.
However, while live video shopping boomed in China last year, it hasn’t yet taken off in the U.S. Some see video shopping akin to television shopping, which has evolved into a niche rather than the broader opportunity some projected when the medium arrived in the early nineties.
Moreover, YouTube is seen by some as more of a search engine than a social media platform that may be more applicable to shopping. The site focuses on content consumption rather than content sharing, relationship building and conversation.
Piper Sandler’s “Taking Stock With Teens” survey for Fall 2020 found the three most used social media platforms by teens to be Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, avoiding including YouTube in the rankings. YouTube was found to rank second in daily video consumption among teens, behind Netflix.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How would you rate the strengths and weaknesses of YouTube as a potential shopping platform? What changes may be necessary to make the site more conducive to shopping?