As we head towards the second quarter of 2024, retailers can be forgiven for feeling nervous. Strong retail sales volumes in January 2024 were an encouraging sign, but look to be going against the grain with the UK currently in recession. Once again, retailers need to be doing everything they can to maximise revenues in an uncertain economy. 

As such, they’ll be looking at every aspect of their operations and thinking about how they can eke out extra performance. An area that has always been problematic for ecommerce is the conversion journey. The route from the consumer seeing an online ad unit to the completion of the sale at the checkout can be frustrating and circuitous. Multiple clicks may be required, with new browser windows or apps opened up, leading users down rabbit holes and reducing the chances that customers will actually make their purchase. 

The amount of friction in the typical content commerce conversion journey is a cause of frustration for retailers and customers alike. Retailers lose out on potential sales, while customers are left empty-handed, and stranded far away from the content they had previously been consuming. 

For retailers looking to drive conversions and maximise revenues, streamlining these journeys is essential. Fortunately, a relatively recent innovation has arrived to help solve this problem – the in-stream checkout that brings the checkout to the customer. Here we’ll take a closer look at what the in-stream checkout is, how it works and how retailers can effectively implement it.  

The era of the in-stream checkout

Simply put, the in-stream checkout allows retailers to embed their own checkout within an ad unit or content, giving potential customers the opportunity to make purchases at the point of inspiration. The old method involved clicking on an ad and being taken away to the retailer’s website or app. Now, the consumer is able to go through all of the required processes to buy the item right there, and go back to the content they were engaged with. This solution empowers retailers to turn every ad into a digital shop front. 

While this may sound as if it is beyond the technical or financial reach of all but the biggest online retailers, think again. No complex integrations into existing infrastructure are required, meaning it’s a tool that retailers of any size can leverage. So as well as streamlining the conversion journey, the in-stream checkout can be a democratising force. 

For retailers that must compete with their larger rivals or face extinction, the in-stream checkout can level the playing field. Ecommerce giants such as TikTok and Amazon have been driving new behaviours among consumers – the TikTok Shop and Amazon Anywhere are setting expectations that all online experiences can be shoppable – and by utilising the in-stream checkout, other retailers can cater to this always-shopping mindset, selling their goods outside of their own platform. 

How the in-stream checkout can boost retailers’ first-party data 

As well as enabling retailers to cash in on the off-platform shopping opportunity, the in-stream checkout brings other advantages. For a start, they enable retailers to gather data-backed insights about an individual’s preferences and shopping behaviours too.

The ad that the consumer saw, what they clicked on, and other data points give retailers valuable information that they can use to build up their first-party data banks. And if they choose to incorporate other interactive elements within their ads as well as the in-stream checkout, they can dig even deeper into customer preferences. For example, by using branching video ads that give consumers a choice of items to look at, retailers can work out which products individual customers are interested in. 

With the deprecation of cookies already underway, retailers need to find new methods of targeting consumers. These data insights uncovered by the in-stream checkout and other interactive elements within ads are invaluable for enhancing personalisation strategies. This will in turn increase conversions and maximise revenues.

Getting the in-stream checkout experience right

While reducing the purchase pathway will lead to higher conversion rates, retailers need to refine their in-stream checkout approach to really enhance the customer experience. Thinking about creating ads that reveal insights about consumers is just part of this strategy. 

For example, the process for any required data entry – such as payment details and address information – must be slick. Requiring new customers to create an account by validating their email address is likely to make the overall experience clunky. Retailers must think about how they  canenable purchases to be made smoothly, without any unnecessary steps or processes. 

We are entering a new era of ecommerce where cumbersome conversion journeys will become a thing of the past. And while the in-stream checkout might represent a paradigm shift, it doesn’t require massive amounts of technical or financial resource. This means retailers can quickly adopt this revolutionary technology.

Effectively implementing the in-stream checkout will require a certain degree of experimentation to get right. However, the rewards are there not only in the form of boosted conversions, but increased data insights as well. As retailers re-think their strategies to adapt to a cookieless world, those that include the in-stream checkout will be in the best position to maximise revenues.

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