First look: YouTube's e-commerce leaves lots of room for improvement

In an effort to make money from YouTube, Google introduced this week an e-commerce component to the popular video-sharing site that allows users to click buttons to buy music, video, and games from iTunes or Amazon.

The idea has merit, but its execution — at least in this early stage — is in need of improvement. It’s not unlike other Google initial-release products.

Here’s how it works: The Good

Say you’re messing around on YouTube and you watch a video from an artist you like — Katy Perry or Raphael Saadiq. Just underneath the video, below the ratings and the sharing and social network links, there are two buttons to download the song or video from Amazon’s MP3 store or iTunes.

Clicking on either one takes  you directly to the song at either store. The purchase process is exactly what you’re used to at AmazonMP3 or iTunes.

“If you like the song,  you don’t need to leave Google or leave the site to buy it,” Bakari Brock, business affairs counsel at  YouTube, told The New York Times. [See also Advertising Age]

That’s not exactly true. Clicking on Amazon, of course, takes you to AmazonMP3, while clicking on iTunes takes you to, naturally, iTunes. But you still leave YouTube, although the page you were viewing remains intact.

Here’s how it doesn’t work: The Bad

But that’s not where YouTube’s e-commerce fails. Ironically — for the undisputed king of search — finding songs to purchase is an awful process and calls into question whether you’d want to use YouTube as a purchase conduit in the first place.

For example, I searched for a new Raphael Saadiq song, only to find I can’t purchase it using YouTube. Also, because there may be many versions of a video on YouTube, finding the one with purchase links can be hit or miss. (Look for “Official Video” in parenthesis next to the video title, if it exists.)

I chose another few songs before I finally found purchase buttons for Saadiq’s “Be Here,” which I already own and don’t need to purchase again. I searched for other artists of interest, but these also did not have purchase links.

Playing around on YouTube, looking for music or videos to purchase, may be interesting at first, but ultimately it’s an empty experience. If you like an artist, why not go directly to iTunes or Amazon MP3?

What YouTube e-commerce is good for

Ultimately, where YouTube e-commerce will shine in the short term is serendipity. You’re rooting around YouTube, looking for bands and artists to watch and listen to. If you like a video or a song, there may or may not be purchase buttons. If there is, great, it’s a convenience. If not, you move on.

What might be helpful would be a way to search for music and videos — and ultimately TV shows, films, video games, books, and concert tickets — available for purchase.

“There’ll be lots of different solutions for lots of different problems,” Shishir Mehrotra, YouTube’s director of product management, told Reuters. “We’ve tested a lot of things already, and we’re going to be testing more in the future. Some will work, some won’t.”

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last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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