Development of a sector with a bright future: teleshopping/Evolucion de un sector con perspectivas de futuro: la venta por television.

Author:Blas, Silvia Sanz
  1. Introduction

    Teleshopping is a commercial non-store formula which has coexisted alongside traditional methods since 1980 in countries such as Italy, France and the United States (Quelch and Takeuchi, 1981).

    A brief review of the most significant studies in this field shows that early research on Teleshopping focussed attention on the system's benefits and drawbacks, the target audience and in general the implications of teleshopping itself (Foster, 1981; Marti and Zeilinger, 1982; Quelch and Takeuchi, 1981; Rogers, 1982).

    The literature on the above aspects of teleshopping was significant but there was an evident lack of research on consumer attitudes towards the new shopping system. By the end of the eighties, studies which focused more on consumer attitudes towards teleshopping began to appear (McKay and Fletcher, 1988) as it was acknowledged that the audience is the potential user of the system and its attitude towards this type of services is of critical importance. The results of this new research facilitated information on the levels of consumer demand for this type of shopping and provided guidelines for television organisations to direct the teleshopping market to the most advantageous areas.

    In Spain, studies continue to concentrate on the system's main advantages and disadvantages, the target audience and levels of demand for this type of shopping. Studies in other countries (Grant, Guthrie and BallRokeach, 1991; Skumanich and Kintsfather, 1993, 1998) have extended the scope of research to analyse the possible links and relations the teleshopper has with this type of advertisements and/or programmes and their influence on the purchase, and the background or precursors to these relations.

    In Spain, very little research has been done up to now why this sales formula did not start until the early 1990s, the date when the first studies began to appear. The most relevant of these studies being both market studies on shopping habits in the new sales systems carried out by the Instituto Emer in several regions of Spain and the research done by De la Balli na and Gonzalez (1993), Sanz (2002), Sanz and Sanchez (2002a, 2002b) where this new sales formula is analysed in detail.

    Currently, there is a clear interest in studying interactive television and Interactive Home Shopping, as new, significant developments which are obviously driving or will drive in the not too distant future to the growth and importance of this type of non-store sales. However, there is a marked lack of interest in the traditional television sales formats. Interest in this field should be revived since these formats are at present the most commonly used and in the more immediate future, they will continue to complement the more innovative formats.

    This lack of interest and little research have encouraged us to study television sales in more detail. The objective of this work is to analyse, and thus highlight the growing relevance and importance of teleshopping, how the system has developed over time and its expectations for future development.

  2. Teleshopping origins

    Sales through television channels began in Italy around 1980 then appeared in the United States and two years later were introduced in France. In the early stages, teleshopping services worked through an interactive system which allowed subscribers to send messages to their information providers who, in turn, were able to provide transactional services such as: placing standing orders, home banking and teleshopping (Marti and Zeilinger, 1982; McKay and Fletcher, 1988).

    The interactive facility stemmed from the fact that the shopper could not only receive general information on the sales organisation, but could also ask about available stocks, price, colour, size and even order a chosen item (Thompson, 1997). To make teleshopping available, the television set was connected to a minicomputer in the retail establishment by ordinary telephone lines. Consumers could order their products from the lists which appeared on the tv screen. At first, the information was only static and written, and so there were no images.

    To place an order, the shopper pressed the appropriate buttons to introduce the item code number and the desired quantity. The consumer's shopping list detailed item by item appeared on the screen with the corresponding account. The consumer could even recover old shopping lists because they were stored in the seller's computer memory. Repeat orders could be quickly confirmed, items could be deleted and new items could be added before completing the transaction.

    When the order was finalised, it was recorded in the shop computer and was printed out in the form of a purchase order. The products were prepared by the staff in the shop for delivery to the consumer. In the majority of cases, delivery took place at the shop's convenience, but in other cases, at the time requested by the shopper. Payment was in cash, by cheque or credit card as decided by the organisations participating in this new sales system.

    While teleshopping could appear an attractive proposal in some aspects, the system also had some limitations (see Table 1). Marti and Zeilinger (1982) paid special attention to the drawbacks of teleshopping, from the consumer's point of view, and at that time the most serious disadvantages were:

  3. The fact that the television was not available for watching programmes or the phone for making calls.

  4. Possible risk of error if a mistake was made selecting the item codes.

  5. The lack of a printed version to detect any possible errors.

    The first of the above problems was classified as minor, as these defects could easily be solved. Obviously the consumer would choose to shop by television when his favourite programmes were not on, or when there was no need to use the phone. The last two were more problematic. In any case, the majority of consumers were probably not dissuaded from teleshopping by just these setbacks.

    The above list of drawbacks was extended thanks to research by other authors such as McKay and Fletcher (1988), who after a study of consumer attitudes towards teleshopping concluded that most of those interviewed were opposed to the alternative of shopping by television on the basis of the following criticisms:

  6. It meant a loss of social contact, emphasising the social function of traditional shopping.

  7. It did not offer the visual stimulation of shopping in a shop. The physical aspects of the product, such as presentation and packaging were decisive when shopping and teleshopping was incapable of communicating this information through photographic presentations. The products, reduced simply to words and figures, lost aesthetic attraction and therefore the temptation to buy them. The lack of visual stimulation was a clear drawback to the teleshopping system.

  8. Teleshopping was perceived as something not very interesting and lacking in mental stimulation. It was synonymous with lack of choice. It limited the number of products available, as all the items carried by a shop could not reasonably appear on the screen. Teleshopping therefore, did not offer as wide a range as the traditional shop.

  9. It was not very suitable for buying perishable goods, clothes or footwear. These products are thought to need a priori examination before the purchase.

  10. The benefits of home delivery also had negative aspects, such as the need to wait until the products were delivered, receive unwanted replacements, discover some items had run out and generally, receive products in poor condition. There was special emphasis on the need for an efficient customer service to reduce the inconvenience of having to return items.

  11. The price of the products. The consumer did not consider that the purchases were competitive on price, since in addition to paying the price of the product, other costs also had to be paid, such as transport costs.

    There were therefore, several reasons which indicated the possible failure of teleshopping (seller's operating costs, the range of products or legal barriers), with one of the clearest reasons being the lack of consumer interest. This, at first, caused doubts as to the future commercial feasibility of the teleshopping service1.

    In Spain, television sales started in the early 1990s on private channels. Teleshopping programmes were first broadcast with the launch of Antena 3 television. Through "La Teletienda Antena 3" this type of programme was introduced in a totally new way. These television sales slots were characterised, at first, by their serious nature, since presenters rarely appeared, it was mostly shots of the products announced with an off-camera voice commenting on them. There were also no testimonies or commentaries from the people who created the products or used them. These programmes were broadcast at different times: in the mornings from 11:00 to 12:00, in the afternoons at 15:30, 17:15, 18:30 and finally at 19:00 (Castello, 2002). Until that moment, only those with a parabolic aerial had access to some teleshopping programmes.

  12. Current situation of teleshopping

    In comparison with its beginnings, the concept of teleshopping has evolved considerably. Nowadays, some of the problems perceived by consumers to hinder the development and introduction of teleshopping appear to have been solved (visual stimulation, appropriate knowledge of the products, efficient customer service and competitive prices). There is no doubt that this commercial non-store sales formula has recently been experiencing significant developments both in Spain and other EU countries and has spectacular perspectives for growth. Teleshopping (teleshopping programmes or infomercials) can therefore be viewed as one of the most promising methods for the sale of goods and/or services, thanks especially to the new technologies that continue introducing new ways to access products and to purchase them from the television set.

    In addition, given that the...

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