YouTube already makes money through advertisements, YouTube Premium (to get rid of said advertisements), and memberships to specific channels. It looks like the company might be preparing to add general shopping functionality to the list, according to an announcement in YouTube's test features and experiments hub.

The company shared that it's working on a new way to shop on the streaming platform. It's asking some of its creators to add "certain products" to their videos. Viewers will then be able to see a list of these featured products via a link in the video. The experiment is only visible to people in the US on Android, iOS, and desktops.

[January 14, 2021] Testing a new way to shop on YouTube: We’re testing a new way for people to easily discover and purchase products featured in YouTube videos. Creators in this pilot can add certain products to their videos. Viewers can then see a list of featured products by clicking the shopping bag icon on the bottom left corner of the video. From there, viewers can explore each product’s page to see more information, related videos, and purchase options for that product. We are currently piloting this feature with a limited number of creators. It is visible to users in the US on iOS, Android, and desktop.

Bloomberg already reported in October 2020 that YouTube is asking creators to tag and track products featured in their videos, which would be linked to analytics and shopping tools from Google. Back then, the publication said the end goal is for Google to sell items directly through YouTube, instead of only advertising items from other sites. A YouTube spokesperson even confirmed the company is testing the functionality with a handful of channels, but declined to share more details back then.

While we haven't seen the feature in action yet, its most likely implementation would be based on Google Shopping, which is already tightly integrated with Search. Google Shopping is a unified storefront for thousands of retail shops large and small, including Best Buy, Target, Costco, and Overstock. However, it hasn't quite reached full dominance — Walmart pulled out in 2019, and a few other large stores are missing from the list. Deep integration with YouTube (and the sales that could come along with that) might encourage more stores to sign up, though.

Officially in testing

Article updated to include YouTube's official statement on the test.

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