H&M this year unleashed a flirty, funny Super Bowl ad featuring soccer star David Beckham. It was titillating for many, but, for certain Samsung TV owners, it offered an extra thrill — the ability to buy the tight-fitting boxers he was (not) wearing, on the spot, by engaging with the ad via remote control.
The interactive ads, available through Delivery Agent’s technology, worked only through Samsung Smart TVs, as well as H&M’s t-commerce boutique on the web and mobile devices.
“T-commerce” once meant selling via television shopping channels that were for years essentially telephone-dependent sales-a-thons. Such channels, like QVC and the Home Shopping Network, so far have been revolutionized by web and mobile apps, not by advances in televisions. A now-quaint offer by NBC after a 2001 episode of "Will and Grace," which allowed viewers to buy the T-shirt that Debra Messing was wearing, was another former example of "t-commerce."
H&M, however, is the first retailer to develop a truly interactive t-commerce campaign of this scale, and it’s no wonder that it pulled out all the stops by drafting a soccer-phehom-slash-heartthrob to star and launching the ad during the Super Bowl.
But the campaign has its limitations. For one thing, only Samsung Smart TV users can access the technology and place an order. Presumably, Delivery Agent will eventually expand its capabilities to work with other manufacturers’ smart TVs.
Then there’s the fun fact that a significant percentage of smart TV owners don’t even bother to hook their television up to the internet. That could be due to laziness or even ignorance about the television’s capabilities.
There are also major privacy concerns with smart TVs. Televisions are the focal points of many homes, like the fireplaces of old. For many people, it may be too weird to have their televisions connected to the outside world, mining every click of the remote for their data. Any creepy feeling along those lines was validated late last year when a tech blogger found that his new LG Smart TV was recording and sending information about his TV viewing habits — every time he changed the channel — and that his opt-out option was useless.
There are trendy shows like "Friends," "Sex and the City," or more currently "The New Girl" that, on their own, influence fashion and shopping habits. They present tempting opportunities for t-commerce, but how much interactive product placement would viewers tolerate during actual programming? It’s one thing to offer a shopping opportunity to viewers during an ad, but many people might be turned off by t-commerce attempts during their shows or their games — even if some die-hard fans might want to grab Carrie's Jimmy Choos right off her feet, step-sister-style.
So, whether and how t-commerce takes off will likely be a series of balancing acts. How to make interactive features available without blowing consumers’ privacy boundaries. How to offer a product during an ad without disrupting the viewers’ show or game. How to ensure that customer service and payment choices are smooth and easy without cluttering up the ad (or show) with too many options or steps.
Right now it’s unclear whether the excitement of H&M’s breakthrough shopping technology will wear out or catch on. The retailer certainly pulled it off in a way that can only boost its brand, by featuring a well-directed, flashy, and fashionable ad with a good-looking sports star and a quirky little plot. It was a nice debut for its first smart TV shopping venture.
It was a well-rounded package with great attention to detail, but the next steps in t-commerce will need to build on that. In the future, or at least if t-commerce escalates, there must also be careful attention to consumer privacy. That means well-honed policies about how TV-based apps collect information from the television while viewers are minding their own business. But it also means attention to design, so that when ads, interactive options, and shopping buttons flash on the screen, it isn't too cluttered, cloying, or annoying.
The H&M ad is a milestone that e-commerce observers have been talking about for at least 15 years — but with increasingly more television viewers taking their small-screen entertainment in an ad-hoc, ad-free way, it remains to be seen whether t-commerce can touch e-commerce or m-commerce when it comes to bringing in sales. No doubt H&M and especially Delivery Agent already have a clue about that. They have, by now, learned a lot about how things went on Super Bowl day and will undoubtedly use that data to streamline and improve the next television-based shopping experience for retailer and consumer alike.