Shopping hauls: A bargain video genre on the rise

Retailers, malls see shopping haul clips' appeal


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Bring on the family cat aimlessly walking in front of the camera. The accidental armpit shots. A doorbell ringing and forcing a timeout.

A script? That sounds suspiciously professional.

Shopping haul videos -- short, unpolished films posted online by customers eager to share the deals and products they've picked up anywhere from department stores to thrift shops -- are having their moment. Google calculates there were 150,000 on YouTube in 2010 and now there are almost 600,000, with 35,000 loaded in the last month alone.

Two young queens of the genre -- the Fowler sisters, Elle, 24, and Blair, 18 -- each have built up a following of hundreds of thousands of fans of their beauty and fashion videos in the last few years. Now they are working to promote their book coming out next month. It's reportedly a fictional account of two sisters who become famous after their videos get popular on YouTube.

"I love her. I watch her," said Dena K. Miller about Blair Fowler. The Ambridge resident likes Elle Fowler, too.

Ms. Miller doesn't expect to become the next shopping haul video star, but she would like to collect a steady income from her online projects. She works in marketing, sings in a band, sells items she makes on craft sale website Etsy and posts her own videos, ranging from tips on nail polish to sharing her excitement over a travel bag found at Marshall's and then matched with accessories from Rite-Aid.

"I want to be helpful to people, and I want to get my information out there," said Ms. Miller, who also uses Facebook and Twitter, and has a blog on blogspot.com to promote her various projects, including The Sidewinder Band for which she sings lead vocal.

Retailers and shopping centers see the potential.

In May, San Francisco online retailer ModCloth ran a contest asking customers to show off their best pieces in a YouTube video and drew 24 entries for the chance to win a $100 gift certificate. The Mall at Robinson is participating in a contest in which shoppers post videos showing an outfit they've created. Finalists will move on to the national round.

Data collected by Google and digital research firm Compete seem to indicate such videos do drive sales. The research, collected in online surveys and released in July, found 4 in 10 of those polled visited stores or retail websites as a result of watching apparel videos. In addition, 28 percent who use online video to check out clothing spent more than $500 on apparel in the past six months. Those surveyed who were between 18 and 34 years old were more than two times as likely to use video to help inform their decisions on which companies to buy from, according to Google's summary of the data.

The back-to-school shopping season tends to be a peak for checking out haul videos. Google reports searches for the term "back to school" on YouTube are up 23 percent from last year. Searches for "haul" video on YouTube are up 63 percent.

"We're past the point of trying to convince people that online video is valuable," said Todd Pollak, industry director, retail for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google. Now the search company is trying to build demand for its tools helping potential advertisers get in front of the viewers.

Every clip in which a cheerful teen raves about her cute dress from rue21, the fun eye shadow from Wal-Mart or the American Eagle Outfitters jeans that fit great could potentially drive sales -- but it's not exactly something that companies can put into the marketing plan six months out.

More than a few videos seem to be spur-of-the-moment projects, starting out with a girl in a poorly lit room looking into a webcam and saying something along the lines of, "This is my first haul video ..."

That raw honesty is part of the appeal.

"It's accessible. It's not some celebrity that's up on a video," Mr. Pollak said. "These are people that you could go to high school with."

Some marketers have gone the route of trying to nurture the creation of more such clips, like the contests that ModCloth and the Mall at Robinson became involved in.

One common way to piggyback onto the trend is using tracking systems that determine which videos are being watched a lot. Then, if the maker of the haul video makes the piece available to be monetized, viewers may see a slick commercial before getting to the less polished clip on how to create the perfect smoky eye.

Kandee Johnson, another shopping haul celebrity, is such a draw that even a video about coping with the death of her father in a car accident in June was preceded by an ad for Suave Professional hair care products.

Video producers are paid based on how many viewers watch a significant portion of the ad.

Sometimes companies send products to haul video producers in hopes they'll talk about the merchandise. There's pressure for producers who want to be credible to disclose any such connections or if they receive pay in some form.

"We've had our eyes on the haul video trend and have seen traffic coming from these kinds of videos, but aren't currently advertising with any," said Aire Plichta, fashion press specialist with ModCloth, which was founded in Pittsburgh and still has operations here.

The Mall at Robinson hasn't paid shoppers for haul videos yet, said Shema Krinsky, marketing director at the regional shopping center, but she added that the mall is following the development closely. "Trends suggest that ... keeping the videos unedited is what authenticates the experience in social media, rather than whether or not the shopper was paid or asked to produce the video."

Ms. Miller, in Ambridge, said she isn't making money with her videos, which she has shot in various rooms in her house and around Pittsburgh using a Nikon Coolpix camera. She'd eventually like to buy a camera designed more for video.

Her following is small; she has a little more than 200 likes on Facebook and 54 official followers on YouTube, although people don't need to subscribe to see her stuff. She recently offered a prize to her viewers, giving away an e.l.f lip plumper.

But she's had a setback on the monetization front in the last couple of months. Ms. Miller said Google notified her that she'd violated a rule involving viewing her own videos -- she said she watches them regularly to try to learn how to improve -- and wasn't eligible anymore for the ad program.

A Google spokesperson responded to a query with the statement, "We can't comment on specific partner accounts, but there is an appeals process and we do re-instate accounts on a case-by-case basis."

Ms. Miller, who sometimes listens to online videos in the background as she does chores around the house, isn't giving up. While she's hoping her status with Google will change, for now she's committed to trying to post at least one video a week and building her presence throughout all the different sites for social networking.

"I'm having such a great time doing it."

For a video by Dena K. Miller of Ambridge, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=UexkMtpxfFQ&feature=autoshare

Kandee Johnson's shopping haul videos are at www.youtube.com/user/kandeejohnson

The Fowler sisters' website is http://elleandblair.com/

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Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018.


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