Why the Internet is turning into QVC

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If YouTube is successful, we may soon be watching makeup tutorials and buying face powder and eyeliner right from their site. Facebook runs infomercial style shows that will encourage people to buy from small businesses, including one that sells dog bow ties.

Many Internet personalities and companies are already showcasing their products on social media. But for the first time in the United States, internet companies appear to be making a concerted effort to make shopping an inextricable and transparent part of the online spaces we come to for entertainment and information, but not necessarily to buy things.

Yes, the American Internet is turning into QVC. (People under 30: email me for an explanation of home teleshopping.)

This happens for three reasons: greed, fear, and China. And the growing craze for digital shopping options is another example of how our online experiences are shaped as much by corporate interests as our desires.

Let me go back to what is happening and why. For years in China, young people have fallen in love with shopping webcasts, short videos, and social media personalities who educate them about products and allow them to shop instantly.

This often occurs in the form of in-app webcasts, which my colleague Raymond Zhong described as “late-night TV and QVC infomercials reinvented for the mobile age.” In one such webcast last month, a Chinese online pitchman known as “the lipstick brother” sold $ 1.9 billion worth of merchandise in a single day.

Technologists predicted it was only a matter of time before Americans became addicted to similar mixtures of e-commerce and social media, but it didn’t quite happen.

Lots of people and businesses on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok sell merchandise, but they often invite you to buy from Amazon, Sephora, or another website. Part of the magic of Chinese in-app purchases is that you can buy something for the millisecond your brain says, “Oooh, I want it! “

I was not sure if Chinese style online shopping could spread to the United States. But there are now so many American internet companies pushing this trend that we could change our ways just by force of their will.

YouTube executives have been talking about turning the site into a place where video creators can sell things recently. This week, Google-owned YouTube detailed its plans to introduce live webcasts and “buyable videos” in time for the holidays. Amazon, Snapchat, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram are growing with shopping webcasts and features to buy items directly from these apps. The same goes for TikTok, whose Chinese parent company is a big live shopping company.

Why is all this happening now? I will return to greed and fear.

Facebook and Google are examining the billions of people who use their apps every day and want to sell this captive audience hot sauce and sneakers. (And it’s a safe bet that these companies will want a fee on those product sales, although they don’t talk much about it yet.)

Social media companies are also working hard to meet the needs of people who are trying to make a living off their followers on Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, or TikTok, in order to retain users on their sites. Online sales are a carrot that the Internet giants can offer online creators to help them make more money.

And then there is fear. Google doesn’t like it when most Americans look to Amazon when looking for products, rather than its web search box. Facebook and Snapchat are concerned that Apple’s new data privacy rules will hurt their ad sales. Diversifying into ecommerce gives them a plan B. And ad sales alone may not be enough for young internet companies like Pinterest and Snap.

You’ll notice that my list of reasons didn’t include shoppers’ desire to buy lipstick from QVC-style Instagram shows or that miracle cleanser you’ve heard about on TikTok straight from TikTok. Yeah.

Buying stuff in our favorite online entertainment destinations can be handy, or we might feel like shopping when chatting with our Facebook gardening groups. We’ll see. If in-app purchases in the US are a bit like how it works in China, it might not necessarily be because that’s what Americans want, but because that’s what an bunch of powerful companies.

How do you feel about buying webcasts and buying whatever you want from sites like YouTube or Instagram? Do you want to buy directly on these platforms? Leave your answer in the comments, and the On Tech team will respond to a selection.


Next week, I’ll be talking to the CEO of Reddit about how we can have better conversations online. I’ll also be getting advice from moderators at some large, healthy online communities, as well as a drag queen who handles large audiences. Here’s more information about the event, free to all New York Times subscribers.

Starting Monday, we’ll also have a group chat on Slack, where you can chat with other readers about the changing role of technology in your life. You will receive a group invitation once you register for the event. We’ll see each other there!


TIP OF THE WEEK

Internet “bots” or automation software used to post to social media or speed up online payments have a bad reputation for dissemination of propaganda online and hogging popular sneakers. Corn Brian X Chen, the consumer tech columnist for the New York Times, says we can put bots to good use this holiday season.

Last summer I wrote a column on how to buy a PlayStation 5. It’s worth revisiting because consoles are still scarce.

Not all robots are bad; there are those who tweet as soon as rare items are back in stock at retailers. (My column included reliable Twitter accounts, including @ PS5StockAlerts and @mattswider, which follow PlayStations.) You can set up Alerts to notify your phone as soon as these tweets are posted, then go online and buy.

(Resellers also use bots to buy as many PlayStations as they can and make a big profit on eBay. Which we don’t recommend.)

There are other useful tips if you want to buy a particular product. Instead of waiting for a business event like Black Friday, you can buy something you really want now and check if the price drops later. Some retailers have a price adjustment policy, in which they will agree to refund some of your money if the price is lower than when you bought it.

Costco, for example, has such a policy: if you bought a laptop today and the price dropped during the week of Black Friday, you can fill out a form on their website to get a gift certificate for the. difference.


  • The Justice Department sued Uber: The government said the company broke the law by charging additional fees for people with disabilities who needed more than two minutes to get into cars, my colleague Kate Conger reported. The lawsuit dates back to a 2016 Uber policy, which the company said was only intended for drivers who kept drivers waiting.

  • YouTube hides the number of “dislikes”: People can still click the thumbs down button on videos, but the number of dislikes on a video will not be visible to the public. This is an adjustment to try to prevent a large number of people from expressing their dissatisfaction with video creators by flooding them with clicks of dislike, reports The Verge.

  • “Don’t upgrade something you like just because a company is promoting a new model,” advises Annemarie Conte, editor at Wirecutter, the New York Times product recommendation site. And Annemarie has some other great suggestions on what to do before buying a new tech thing.

DO NOT TALK TO THE LAB. “This child is serious on science.


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