Shoppable media

This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to shoppable media.

Shoppable ads allow users to go from discovery to purchase in an instant, leading to greater profits for brands, according to iProspect’s Nate Shurilla.

As traditional shopping continues to wane in the wake of the pandemic and is increasingly replaced by emerging, consumer-friendly e-commerce formats, shoppable ads are coming into their own, and at an accelerated pace.

The success of this evolution in retail strategies is not surprising as it combines the best of both worlds – the satisfaction of the live shopping experience and the convenience of online purchasing. When people can’t go out and shop, they can easily go online and watch someone shop or introduce products, and that is a convenient and attractive alternative. Smart retailers are utilising shoppable ads to bring discovery and content through to purchase.

Key shoppable formats and platforms

Content-rich livestreams make up perhaps the largest share of shoppable ads today. Amazon Live started in 2019 and continues to gain momentum. Facebook and Instagram are increasing their foothold as well. In APAC, especially, this is huge. Lazada, Shopee and Tokopedia each have robust means to produce livestreams, and this has been a pillar of commerce for quite some time in China.

Google Shopping is still huge and growing, due in part to Google making shopping listings free, which lowers barriers for e-retailers. Google has also introduced the Google Shopping app and stand-alone website that brings together e-retailers and's into one platform with shoppable ads. We can expect YouTube integration soon, converting YouTube videos into shoppable video ads.

Facebook released Checkout which goes across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Once logged in, the shopper is just a few clicks away from the purchase – no more jumping to other websites. Purchases can be made via newsfeed posts, shopping tabs, shoppable stories, and shoppable livestreams. While this is still US-centric, it is slowly expanding to the UK and other markets.

There are also third parties like which allow e-retailers to sell on social media around the world without having to connect via native systems like Checkout.

Making any medium ‘shoppable’ with QR codes

QR codes in TV and streaming generally feature branded shoppable content instead of ads. Shoppable TV, a new feature of NBCUniversal’s Checkout, puts QR codes into TV and streaming that viewers can scan with their phones to go directly to online product pages. LG TV's have begun building in this feature too.

Expect QR codes to show up more frequently on billboards or in print as well. They can make any medium shoppable by linking to a product page or chatbot. Big in Asia for some time, the use of QR codes is just starting to catch-on in boomer markets like the US. When Marvel needed to increase awareness of Avengers tickets being available, it implemented a Facebook chatbot that was accessed through ads and organic posts, which helped drive +50% conversion from social media engagement to sale.

Voice ads can be used in podcasts and radio to link listeners directly to a digital assistant or take purchases through the chat. This is great for drivers who can react to a vocal cue in a radio ad or visual ad on a billboard that says, “Ask Alexa about our latest product X.”

The challenges

E-retailers venturing into the realm of shoppable ads do face some challenges. Because these newer formats are not as streamlined or automatable, sellers will find it necessary to invest more time and planning to capitalise on them. This concentration of effort will not be lost, however, as making shoppable ads more thoughtful and responsive to human behavior could actually be a good thing in a world of ad saturation and ad fatigue.

Livestreams present unique challenges because they depend heavily on the images of featured influencers. An influencer slip-up while promoting a brand will also reflect poorly on that brand. For all types of ads, data feeds need to be integrated correctly, and in real time, to make sure product information and stock is accurate and available.

The opportunities

In spite of all the challenges, there are significant advantages in the use of shoppable ads. In terms of formats, QR codes allow for much more attributable ads within print, TV and OOH, and once scanned, digital signals can be used to log user data and effectively measure impact. Formats like chat allow for a connection built over time. You won’t need cookies and retargeting if you are in someone’s inbox. The conversion funnel is shrinking as shoppable ads allow users to go from discovery to purchase in an instant, leading to greater profits.

The key piece of advice to those marketers aiming to enter into shoppable ad formats, is that they should start small and experiment. Not having to start with major investment is one of the benefits of shoppable ads, particularly chat. Any chatbot you build can be improved and built upon in the future, unlike an ad campaign that may never appear again. And always ensure you are remembering the consumer at all times. Where are they, and where might there be holes in your current ad campaigns?

As online shopping becomes more ever-present and 24/7, the best reason for e-retailers to use shoppable ads is the more human-like interactions such ads can emulate. Livestreaming and chat formats allow for two-way communication with consumers whereas traditional ad formats are one-way only. Sellers who are able to have real dialogue with consumers are able to cultivate connections that are more authentic, more human, and more profitable.