Next Frontier of Consumerism: Couch-Potato Shopping

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From a marketer’s point of view, TV programming exists mainly to sell ads — and, by extension, of course, the services and products shown in those ads. Efforts are now well under way that make it quicker and easier for consumers to purchase these products and services without anyone ever having to leave the couch.

Consumers already purchase goods via computers, tablets and smart phones. Oh yeah, via physical stores too. But imagine if we could shop directly through the medium that still best captures our attention: television.

Actually, it appears as if consumers will soon be able to do much more than just imagine this scenario. Reuters reported that PayPal has entered into a partnership with Tivo and Comcast with the goal of getting TV viewers to not simply watch ads but to spend money during commercials and when shows are paused or have just ended.

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With the Comcast arrangement, which is expected to be operational later this year, viewers will see a tiny ad at the bottom of their TV screens asking if they’d be interested in a retailer coupon. Click on the ad, enter a PayPal account number, and the discount is applied to the purchase. (Donations to nonprofits and political campaigns will also be accepted in this system.) Tivo users will be prompted with interactive ads popping up when they pause a show or right after a show ends. It will be possible to buy the products advertised immediately, thanks to a PayPal account.

From the consumer point of view, these new services bring impulse shopping to all new, more tempting, more dangerous levels. TV has proved an extraordinarily effective tool for selling stuff that, let’s be honest, you don’t really need. It’s not a coincidence that infomercials tell consumers they must place orders within a few minutes of the ad airing: Dopamine levels are highest right after an ad is shown, and when they decrease a little later, the odds you’ll think the product is a smart, worthwhile purchase drops precipitously.

Data also indicates that shopping prompted by items shown on channels like QVC reaches its highest levels between 8 p.m. and midnight. Why? That’s not only when the most people are watching TV; it’s when the most people are drunk while watching products advertised on TV.

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It looks as if Ikea is also trying to get in on the TV-viewing couch-potato shopper of the future. Earlier this month, Gigaom reported that Ikea’s forthcoming Uppleva TV set, an all-in-one unit that’s wi-fi ready and comes with USB and HDMI ports, as well as a built-in Blu-ray/DVD/CD player and surround-sound system, will be accompanied by one very special remote control. Sure, it’ll operate all of the unit’s technical operations. It will also supposedly allow viewers to purchase products advertised on the set — perhaps, say, a new Ikea desk or lawn chair?

Exact details of how the purchases would be processed, and if and when the system would be introduced in Europe or the U.S., haven’t been announced. As efforts to turn passive TV viewers into active spenders increases, though, it’ll become increasingly clear that our living rooms are turning into retailer showrooms.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
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