Why the Internet is turning into QVC

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If YouTube is successful, we may soon watch makeup tutorials and buy face powder and eyeliner directly from her site. Facebook broadcasts infomercial-type programs that will encourage people to shop at small businesses, including one that sells bow ties for dogs.

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

Yes, the American Internet is turning into QVC. (Persons under 30: Email me for an explanation of TV 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 by our desires.

Let me come back to what is happening and why. For years in China, young people have loved the shopping webcasts, short videos and social media personalities that inform them. on products and let them buy instantly.

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

Technologists have predicted that it’s only a matter of time before Americans become addicted to similar mixes of e-commerce and social media, but it hasn’t quite happened.

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

I have been uncertain that Chinese-style online shopping could spread to the United States. But there is now so many american internet companies are pushing this trend that we can change our habits by sheer force of their will.

YouTube executives recently didn’t stop talking about turning the site into a place where video creators can sell stuff. This week, YouTube, which is owned by Google, detailed its plans to introduce live shopping webcasts and “buyable videos” in time for the holidays. Amazon, Snapchat, pinterestFacebook and Instagram are growing with shopping webcasts and features to buy items directly in these applications as well. TikTok toowhose Chinese parent company is large in direct shopping.

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

Facebook and Google look at the billions of people who use their apps every day and want to sell that captive audience hot sauce and sneakers. (And it’s a safe bet these companies will want a royalty on those product sales, although they’re not talking much about it yet.)

Social media companies are also working hard to meet the needs of people trying to make a living from their followings on Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat or TikTok, to keep users coming back to their sites. Online sales are a carrot that internet giants can offer online creators to help them make more money.

And then there is fear. Google doesn’t like this most Americans turn to Amazon when they search for products, rather than in its web search box. Facebook and Snapchat are worried about Apple’s new data privacy rules eating away at their ad sales. Diversifying into e-commerce gives them a plan B. And ad sales alone may not be enough for internet startups like Pinterest and Snap.

You’ll notice that my list of whys didn’t include shoppers wanting to buy lipstick from QVC-style Instagram shows or that miracle cleanser you heard about on TikTok directly in TikTok. Yeah.

Buying stuff from our favorite online entertainment destinations can be convenient, or we might feel bad about shopping where we chat with our Facebook gardening groups. We’ll see. If in-app purchases in the US are a little more like how it works in China, maybe that’s not necessarily because that’s what Americans want, but because that’s what a group of powerful companies.

What do you think of shopping webcasts and buying what you want on 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 talk to the GM of Reddit about how we can have better conversations online. I’m also going to get some advice from the moderators of some large, healthy online communities, as well as a drag queen who manages a large audience. Here is more information about the eventfree 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 an invitation to the group once you register for the event. We’ll see each other there!


TIP OF THE WEEK

Internet “bots” or automation software used to post on social media or speed up online payments, have a bad reputation for spread online propaganda and hogging popular sneakers. But Brian X. Chenthe consumer technology 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 coming back to because consoles are always in short supply.

Not all bots are bad; there are those who tweet as soon as rare items are back in stock at retailers. (My column included trusted Twitter accounts, including @PS5StockAlerts and @mattswiderthat 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 are eager to buy a particular product. Instead of waiting for a shopping event like Black Friday, you can buy something you really want now and check to see if the price drops later. Some retailers have a price adjustment policy, where they will agree to refund some of your money if the price is lower than it was 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 Department of Justice sued Uber: The government says the company broke the law charging additional fees for people with disabilities who needed more than two minutes to get into cars, my colleague Kate Conger reported. The lawsuit stems from a 2016 Uber policy, which the company said was only for passengers who kept drivers waiting.

  • YouTube hides number of dislikes: Users can still click the thumbs down button on videos, but the number of dislikes on a video will not be publicly visible. This is a tweak to try to prevent large numbers of people from expressing their displeasure with video creators by inundating them with dislike clicks, reports The Verge.

  • “Don’t upgrade something you love just because a company is promoting a new model,” advise Annemarie Conte, editor of 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.

NO TALKING IN THE LABORATORY.” This kid is serious on science.


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