Google looks to make YouTube more shoppable on mobile

Viewers will be able to browse products, link directly to retailer's sites from within ad video

Jeff Fraser May 21, 2015

google shop now
Google‘s YouTube has rolled out a new feature to help online retailers turn more of its┬ámobile viewers into mobile buyers.

With TrueView for Shopping, YouTube has added an embedded caption for preroll ads where viewers can leaf through a product catalog of items shown in the ad, or click a “buy now” button to be sent directly to the product page on the retailer’s site. The feature is built to work across smartphones, tablets and desktops, but it’s especially appealing to ecommerce retailers that are trying to boost low mobile conversation rates.

Though e-tailers saw more than half of their traffic come from mobile for the first time last year, mobile orders still only make up 1/3 of all ecommerce sales.

TureView for Shopping as viewed on mobile

TureView for Shopping as viewed on mobile

Mobile visitors seem far more hesitant than those on desktop to actually commit to purchases. According to research from Custora, an ecommerce marketing platform, conversion rates on smartphones average about 1.4%, substantially lower than the 4.3% typical of desktop. Not only that, but the average order value tends to be much smaller on smartphones — resulting in a customer lifetime value for mobile-exclusive shoppers that’s 22% lower than their desktop counterparts.

Google thinks it can help shake this trend by adding seamless purchasing features to mobile-oriented media, like YouTube, which sees more than 50% of its views come from mobile. The strategy relies on the increasingly widespread intuition among marketers that mobile viewers tend to be more impulsive shoppers, who buy based on serendipitous search and social signals, and have weaker purchase intent than deliberate desktop shoppers.

Patrick Hopf, CEO of SourceKnowledge, a platform that buys digital video ads on behalf of Canadian ecommerce clients like Frank & Oak, says a big attraction of the buy button will be the clear ROI signal it provides to acquisition-driven online retailers. Even if the viewer doesn’t ultimately end up making a purchase, flipping through a catalog or clicking through to a product page gives a much clearer signal of purchase consideration than a video click (which could be a pause) or a follow-up search.

Hopf says a lot of consumers browse on mobile, but buy on desktop, which may be why mobile conversions end up being thinner than desktop. But he sees that starting to change.

“Your smartphone knows a lot more about you than your PC: your friends, your daily routine, your exact location, your preferred shipping address and your billing information,” he says. “If those attributes can be leveraged by retailers to provide more relevant and personalized ads, with frictionless native transactions, then it would make sense to see even more ad dollars move to mobile video.”

Google’s ambitions to make mobile media more shoppable may not end at YouTube. Rumours have been circulating that it’s experimenting with a “buy now” button for mobile search ads, which could help to boost mobile search conversions the way TrueView for Shopping is intended to boost mobile video. Some industry watchers have even claimed with its new focus on m-commerce, Google could be looking to pull the rug out from under Amazon.