By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2006-09-05 Print this article Print

Greg Buzek, president of the retail technology analysis firm IHL, said that Buy.coms efforts must be seen as merely a new entry in a vastly unknown territory. "Its really the Wild, Wild West right now when it comes to video on the Web," Buzek said. "In the e-commerce space, I think the ability to see a review that is visual is a good thing, but I think youre going to run into two different groups that will bother to do this. Somebody that is deliriously happy with the product and somebody who absolutely hates it. So youre going to get the extremes. Thats just standard human behavior."
One problem with traditional text consumer reviews is the anonymity of the review—even if a name is given—can make it difficult to judge credibility. Is the writer truly a rank-and-file consumer or perhaps an employee of the vendor. Although a video certainly doesnt prevent that kind of fraud, it is likely to make such an attempt more difficult. After all, a person can make up 50 fake names, but its a lot more difficult make up 50 fake faces.
Steve Rowen, senior editor of the Extended Retail Industry Journal, noted that the consumers who are more likely to post video content tend to be young, which has the potential to skew review data. "Im just looking at the Buy.coms (video reviews) that are on the site right now and theres not a person on here who is older than 25," Rowen said. "Im not certain that that will actually mitigate the value of this, though. Perhaps this will actually lend a certain legitimacy if viewers can actually see the person offering the reviews, which is perhaps someone that … dresses like them." Buy.com is working with Grouper Networks—which was acquired by Sony Pictures Entertainment Aug. 23—on the video technology being used for this launch. Dave Samuel, a co-president of Grouper, said there are two ways consumers can create content for Buy.com: They can use a PC-connected Webcam, or they can record it on some other device (video camera, digital still camera with video capabilities, cell phone with video capabilities, and so on) and transfer the files to Buy.com. The Webcam approach is a lot easier, Samuel said, because its already connected with the PC/laptop and the video is quickly ready for upload. Once received, the file is turned into a Flash file. The quality of the initial videos is questionable. Will many users take the time to do sophisticated edits to their videos, perhaps cutting in product close-ups at appropriate points? Even if users did, Buy.com has set an initial limit of 110MB and 10 minutes for each video, which will effectively prohibit high-resolution video. To put that into context, 10 minutes of a typical Hollywood motion picture takes up about 167GB, which is more than 1,000 times more than the maximum set by Buy.com and Grouper. Samuel defends such a low limit for video on two grounds. First, its higher than other video sites. "Most of our Internet competitors have a cap of 100MB," he said. More importantly, the limitation involves file-transfer logistics in the way consumer content is being accepted. "If we were to allow half-a-Gig files, often times [the download] wouldnt work" because it would time out. Another issue with Buy.coms video reviews is search. For example, if buyers are looking at a toaster on Amazon.com, they might find some 48 consumer-submitted reviews. If they wanted to know if the toast pops up high enough to be easily accessed but not so high that it tends to fly out of the machine, they could quickly search to see if those issues are discussed in any of the reviews. With video reviews today, they would have to watch all the reviews in their entirety to find out if any of them even address their issue (unless the reviewer happened to mention it in a brief one-sentence description). Groupers Samuel said he expects technology to deal with that issue in the years ahead, as voice-to-text becomes more accurate. But still, Forresters Mulpuru wondered if the lack of search capability today will slow the acceptance of Buy.coms video review approach. "Who has time to watch these? Its not quick like skimming/reading a written customer review and that will certainly be an impediment," she said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

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