Video Production & Shopping TV

Whilst shopping channels are made for the medium of television, an online business looking to use video can learn a huge amount from these shopping shows.

The history of shopping channels

TV shopping channels evolved in the late 1970s. It all began when a US radio show advertiser struggled with its advertising bill, so traded units of its product (can openers) in lieu of payment to station owner Bud Paxson.

Bob Circosta – bobcircosta.com

Paxson agreed to take the advertiser’s products and let his radio talk show host Bob Circosta sell them live over the airwaves. The sales pitch Circosta made throughout his show was such a hit that the can openers sold out.

This historic moment is seen as the precursor to shopping channels. Paxson and financier Roy Speer went on to found a local cable TV shopping channel in 1982. The pair produced the Home Shopping Club, which became part of the Home Shopping Network (HSN) in 1985. 14 years later the company launched HSN.com.

In the mid-1980s, Joseph Segel founded QVC after watching a videotape of the Home Shopping Network. Segel forbade the hard sell, taking the line that presenters should encourage sales by informing rather than pressurizing viewers.

QVC logo – Old and current

To make the presentation both informative and entertaining, QVC presenters had to study each product in order to explain its benefits. They also had to understand the sales history of the product.

This approach aligns quite well with modern day online sales. Many of the techniques and concepts used by shopping channels cross over well with web retail, so it’s worth taking the time to look at some of the ways that major shopping channels present products, use action oriented words and language and hook in viewers with a range of calls to action.

The kind of information that a shopping channel must get across on screen is very similar to that which a website selling products must show prospective customers through its website and video content.

Shopping channels: The master persuaders

Set Design

Shopping channels tend to vary their presentations, but theset is often either a TV studio or made to look like someone’s home. Opting for a homely approach can be a good idea as it’s generic but familiar to most people.

Energy and passion

Whether the set is that of a modern TV studio or made to look like someone’s home, the sales pitch is generally done by an energetic TV presenter who provides a lot of information about the features and benefits of the product.

Frame things well

Shots tend to be framed so that the presenter is shown with the product. The presenter may be filmed from the waist up beside the product and this may then cut to views of the presenter holding or touching the product.

Extreme close-ups are often used to show the details of a product, whether on its own or in the presenter’s hands. Alternatively, it can make sense to frame products that are to be worn, such as clothing or jewelery, on the presenter.

A presenter who can sell

Within their slots, the presenters will also communicate a range of sales techniques verbally.

Some examples can include:

  1. Getting the viewer to imagine using or wearing the item. This technique aims to place the product into the viewer’s life somehow, so it brings them closer to making an association with the product and, in turn, wanting to make a purchase.
  2. Repeating what good value the product is.
  3. Telling the viewer how heavily reduced the product currently is. This is often supported by text on the screen stating ‘Reduced price’. This can also be combined with some form of time constraint as to when the reduction ends.
  4. Cross-selling: presenters sometimes take time to mention complementary products.

Clear branding and screen text

Shopping channels usually display the channel logo permanently on screen, on either the lower or upper right. This way, as soon as someone flicks over, they know what channel it is they’re watching. And if the video is replayed elsewhere, recorded or uploaded online, the channel logo is always in frame. A similar approach can be applied to most online product videos. At a minimum, the company logo can appear at the start and end of each video.

The key features and benefits of a product are usually reiterated as short text graphics or ‘sound bites’ at the bottom of the screen to help reinforce what the presenter has said.

Some channels like to provide more detailed information,with the words scrolling right to left across the bottom of the screen.

QVC in the UK

Be easy to contact

Shopping channels focus primarily on getting users to place orders over the phone (not unlike some online businesses), so it’s critical that the phone number is shown clearly on screen.

Some channels opt for toll free numbers, others lo-cal lrates and some even use premium rate phone numbers. Toll free numbers obviously save the customer money and can be the most popular route for online customers.

Website URL

This is usually permanently visible during sales pitches.Whilst phone ordering is historically the way that shopping channels have preferred to do business, the web is now a major aspect of retail. So the website URL is displayed and often announced and promoted by presenters during pitches.

Attractive postage, packing and delivery costs

This is another important feature shown to viewers by shopping channels.

How each channel deals with this can vary: some offer free delivery whilst others have a fixed delivery rate that can be around $12-plus for each item sold.

Variations do exist, especially on the up-sell. Some channels may offer bulk discounts of postage and packaging where more than one item is purchased. If free delivery is a feature of the product being sold,some presenters will build on this by getting viewers to consider how much money they would spend buying the item from a store: the cost of parking and fuel, bus or train fares, etc. This technique again encourages viewers to imagine themselves shopping.

Price and value

The price of the item is an important feature, and shopping channels will usually have the original and reduced price permanently on show.They may then describe to viewers how much they can save by purchasing the item at the reduced price.

Obviously a good price is often relative to value. So it’s key that the presenter can demonstrate the value of a product by reference to its features and benefits.

Similar to reducing the delivery cost for multiple purchases is the concept of an overall price reduction for multiple purchases,for example, ‘buy one get one free’ offers.

Savings and sales

Savings are a major aspect of both presentation script and visuals. Often words and phrases like ‘sale’, ‘savings’, ‘you save’, ‘special value’, ‘clearance price’ and ‘seasonal sale’ are used to entice the viewer, whether spoken by the presenter or used visually.

Easy ordering and payment options

Shopping channels try to make ordering as easy as possible by offering viewers the chance to order by phone (whether automated or speaking to a person), online and sometimes even via a smartphone application that enables purchases.

The channels usually accept payment by all major credit and debit cards. Beyond this, they can also offer higher purchase credit in the form of payment installments.

This can break down financial barriers to entry. Viewers can purchase an item without having the full amount available at the time and so can commit to buy for only a fraction of the actual sale price.

This can break down financial barriers to entry. Viewers can purchase an item without having the full amount available at the time and so can commit to buy for only a fraction of the actual sale price.

Using still images

The presentation may include still product shots in the background. Usually these will be against a plain white background (or plain black if the item is a very light color). For these shots the screen is usually all one color so the product is clearly defined. These same principles can be applied online to both product videos and product pages.


By showing or referring to limited stock, shopping channels can create a sense of urgency among viewers. This is one of the key ways in which a shopping channel presentation can inspire viewers to take action.

The presenter often has a short slot to try to sell the products. Some channels are designed to sell all available products in a five to 20-minute slot, as scarcity plays an important part in encouraging viewers to act.

The presenter may stir things up a little by using phrases such as: “We only have a few left” or “The phone lines have just got really busy”.

Using live presentations, shopping channels can create a sense of tension and anxiety for viewers sitting on the fence. Presenters may show products that are sold out to remind viewers to buy now rather than sit back and wait to make a decision.

Presenters will sometimes use lines like “We may not have time for these”, skimming over products to create a bit of drama. Exclaiming “The lines are getting busy now!” or “It’s a busy hour!”.

Many of the presentations will also highlight scarcity using text graphics that say ‘limited stock’ or by showing the actual number of products left in stock, which can drop during the presentation.

Whilst it may not be practical in web videos to dynamically show stock levels falling, it is possible to include such information on the product page in which the video is embedded.

‘Limited stock’ is a more generic approach to highlighting scarcity – but the aim is still to encourage the viewer to take action.

Make everything big

To throw additional hype into the mix, offers can be enhanced. So, for example, a sale can be a ‘great sale’ and a discount ‘huge discounts’, and so on.

You deserve it

Presenters can take a more emotional approach to the sales process by encouraging viewers to imagine already owning the product and picturing themselves happily enjoying it.

From this point on, the presenter can make claims like “You deserve it”. In many ways the presenter role plays the viewer’s moral dilemma and justifies a decision to buy with phrases such as “You might be thinking, I deserve to buy myself something”.

You might not need it now, but maybe later

This technique can be thrown in with many random products to create a reason to buy. The presenter may refer to birthdays, social events,holidays or social gatherings at some future date as being good reasons for viewers to buy now. It covers virtually every possibility.

For example, a shopping channel promoted a scented light bulb in summertime using the line: “Perhaps it will come in useful as a stocking filler at Christmas.”

Get viewers engaged

Some presenters will encourage viewers to engage beyond the television. For example, they may encourage viewers to visit the website, read reviews about a product online, become a Twitter follower or ‘like’ the Facebook page.

Presenters can even use their likability to encourage ordering: some channels do phone-ins for customers. The aim is to encourage sales by allowing prospective customers to speak with the presenter live on TV.

In fact, pleasing the presenter can become part of the emotionally charged selling process. Some viewers become fans of particular presenters and are then more likely to buy when the channel features these individuals. Where this is the case, it can be quite powerful for a presenter to speak to viewers as a friend, with a line like “C’mon guys, only five left”.

How you can use this

By this stage you should begin to see the wealth of practical presentation skills and persuasive sales techniques that shopping channels employ to sell products on a daily basis.

So, when producing e-commerce web videos for your business,shopping channels can be a good reference point.

Shopping channels deliver powerful and compelling sales presentations day in, day out. The combined effect of a professional presenter and good camerawork, lighting and sound, with supporting on-screen visuals, is a great visual selling experience.

Teamed with persuasive suggestions in the presenter’s script and supporting text, graphics help to take someone sitting at home passively and start them thinking about buying. Ideally, they’ll pick up the phone and buy there and then.

It should be pointed out that this front-end TV sales machine must be accompanied by good back-end service: delivery, product quality, customer support and so on. None of these elements can be overlooked or taken for granted.


  • Why shopping channels are an important reference for businesses making web videos.
  • How shopping channels initially sprung up from radio, when radio station owner Bud Paxson and his talk show host Bob Circosta successfully sold can openers live on air. Paxson became a founder of the shopping channel that later became HSN.
  • The setting up of QVC in the mid-1980s by Joseph Segel.
  • The way in which television shopping channel shows use a mixture of well designed sets, camera angles and graphic design in their presentations.
  • Why shopping channels give viewers many different ways to buy right away (including payment in installments) and provide many ways to get in touch – from phoning to using the web.
  • How these channels use energetic presenters and persuasive language to encourage people to buy now.

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