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Shoppable TV. Gimmick or game changer?

Season 7 of ITV2’s Love Island got a whole lot more interactive. Not only could you vote for your favourite couple, but you could buy their deodorant and face cream too, the moment you saw the product appear on screen.

The UK’s first Shoppable TV service launched during the 2021 Love Island series, with Boots as ITV’s launch partner. It works using AI technology that identifies and tags featured products on screen and tells you which ones are available to buy. You can then use your remote control to select more info and purchase the product via a link sent to your mobile. Nifty eh?

One small snag: you can currently only access the service if you’re watching on an LG TV, and only then if it’s a model from 2019 or later. You need to opt in to the service and notifications beforehand too.

Sky’s shoppable ads

Sky is also playing in this exciting arena. But, unlike ITV’s in-programme service, Sky’s version is perhaps more expected, as it allows you to shop the ad break rather than the shows.

Still, it’s pretty innovative. Not only does it enable advertisers to add QR codes to their TV spots (which is isn’t entirely new*) it combines with Sky Media’s “market-leading targeting and measurement analytics”. Sky says it’s the “only broadcaster that is able to link sales directly with our viewing data.” Shoppable campaigns will be A/B tested to optimise impact too.

*remember last year’s “world’s first drinkable TV ad” by Wieden+Kennedy for Camden Town Brewery?

Camden Town Brewery

A gap in the market

According to Paul Ridsdale, ITV’s Acting Chief Marketing Officer, Shoppable TV is “filling a real gap currently in the market. We know ITV viewers enjoy being able to purchase items featured in our programmes and this makes doing that smoother and easier than ever before.”

This thinking is supported by companies in the US, like Delivery Agent. The company went out of business in 2016 but, before it did, it enabled people to buy all kinds of products seen on television programmes and made Katy Perry’s 2015 Superbowl show “shoppable”. Numerous fashion websites, such as and let you search by programme title and purchase the look online. 

We can safely say that people do want to buy things they see on TV. But do they actually want to shop through their telly?

According to Retail Dive, over 75% of customers in the US say they do. About 65% of those surveyed said they would buy items through their TVs that they saw highlighted in TV ads. While 35% would be most inclined to buy those they saw featured in TV shows. It remains to be seen if the same is true for audiences in the UK.

Thanks again to the NHS

Sky points to the NHS Covid Track and Trace app as a reason shoppable ads could be a long-term winner here, as the app made QR codes more familiar to more people. Plus, there’s the growing phenomenon of multi-screening; we’re all watching TV and tweeting at the same time these days. So our phones are at the ready.

The media giant also quotes Statista, who predict that nearly three quarters of all retail e-commerce will be generated through mobile in 2021, up from 59% in 2017. All of which means TV ads could do both the brand building job and the sales. Double bubble for your ATL ad spend.

So the desire to purchase is there. And the technology – and our ease with it – is quickly catching up. But whether people really will zap QR codes that appear for a few seconds in the ad breaks, and complete a purchase, in sufficient volumes to make it worth the investment… we’ll just have to see. After all, most of us aren’t even watching the ads. Nearly 90% of viewers fast-forward through the commercial break whenever they can. And 29% of TV ads are just not seen.

If you are still watching, with mobile in hand, you’d have to be pretty engaged to open your QR reader app, scan the code, and then navigate a website to find what you want to buy. Perhaps the success of shoppable ads will depend on UX; how seamless the experience feels from TV screen to online checkout.

Speeding up the shopper journey

Shoppable ads are certainly a novel way to sell to consumers and could be an opportunity to smash down some barriers on the journey from brand awareness to purchase. For retailers, the possibility of bringing virtual shelves to your TV screen, as part of their ATL campaigns, could prove very tempting indeed.

Perhaps, ITV’s more direct ‘product placement’ approach will be the winner here though. The need to opt in to the service, plus the fact that you’re seeing the merch within the world of a show you’re already invested in, means a highly engaged audience. The tech will need to be rolled out to more screens and devices, and include other programmes and brands, to be a long-term success. All of which is in ITV’s plan.

We’re watching with anticipation (and we don't just mean to see which Love Islander is going to scoop a Pretty Little Thing deal).


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