Shopping on a screen

Francis Scialabba


Why everyone’s rolling out shoppable inventory

Point, click, purchase.

· 4 min read

The “Rachel” haircut isn't the only cultural touchstone that Jennifer Aniston introduced in “Friends.” During the show's run, TV execs envisioned a world where viewers could click a button and purchase the character's clothes, popularizing the (terrible) term “T-commerce.”

Now, streaming services and TV networks are increasingly making this world a reality. Getting people to buy stuff—you know, the whole point of advertising—has never been easier, as NBCUniversal, Hulu, and Amazon all tout shoppable inventory. While NBCU and Hulu execs claim consumers want these tools, media buyers are mixed on whether they’re more effective than your standard 30-second commercial.

A refresher

Earlier this month, Amazon unveiled a feature it’s beta testing that allows viewers to make a purchase while watching an ad on IMDb TV, either through Alexa or a Fire TV remote. To state the obvious, Amazon offers a bit more inventory than say, Hulu or Netflix; it’s an entire digital superstore.

“In the case of Amazon, [it’s] already got a retailer relationship, all the shipping fulfillment, all that UX, the merchant services—all that is figured out,” said Ira Maher, VP of integrated agency The Basement, which was involved in Amazon’s “actionable video ads solution” beta testing. “Our bigger question surrounds consumer adoption.”

Unlike Amazon’s one-stop shop, much of NBCU and Hulu’s shoppable inventory is centered around QR codes—you know, that thing you’ve used at every restaurant this past year—both in shows and in advertising breaks. For instance, NBCU featured a QR code during the 2019 French Open that gave viewers a chance to browse Lacoste clothing worn by tennis star Novak Djokovic during the tournament.

Evan Moore, VP of commerce partnerships at NBCU, told Marketing Brew that people are interested in this type of shopping.

“We talk to users a lot and it's a common refrain that they see something in a show that they love and want, and they have the hardest time in the world just purchasing it,” he said. “We're really trying to collapse that entire process and drive that transaction as close to the moment of inspiration as possible.”

Moore said NBCU’s shoppable inventory indexes 30% above typical e-commerce conversion rates, at around 2.3%, although he didn’t share how the company defines conversions.

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Hulu’s GatewayGo platform lets viewers interact with ads via QR codes, emails, or push notifications. According to Hulu, audience engagement with these types of ads triples when compared to its other interactive inventory. Lisa Valentino, EVP of client and brand solutions for Disney advertising sales, told us Hulu is also testing the feature in its own content, not just within ads.

“When a brand is integrated into sports content or entertainment content, we see an immediate correlation to search activity,” she said. “We know that integrating brands into content drives action and drives consideration.”

“Rabbit hole of advertising”

Whether it’s convincing someone to purchase a product or just getting their email address, all these ads are designed to be transactable, said Moore. That’s never been more important, amid recent limitations surrounding first-party data collections.

“Advertisers have more incentive than ever to try to collect first-party data. They want people to raise their hand and say, ‘I'm interested in your product,’” Eric Schmitt, a marketing analyst at Gartner, told Marketing Brew.

Maher agreed. “From the publisher perspective, it’s a really healthy defense mechanism to some of the measurement limitations that are coming into place,” he said.

Two media buyers told Marketing Brew that publishers are seeking to charge a premium of up to 10%–15% more for shoppable inventory. Both NBCU and Hulu declined to talk pricing.

“I wouldn’t pay a premium for it. All media is to drive sales, full stop. There’s not a premium when they do the sale directly in the spot,” said a media buyer, who asked to remain anonymous. “It hasn’t set the market on fire.”

Ultimately, it’ll come down to consumer behavior, as audiences are the ones who’ll decide whether shoppable ads are working or not. Are they a distraction or a helpful tool? “At the end of the day, people want to watch content. People don't want to be taken down the rabbit hole of advertising,the anonymous media buyer said. — RB

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.