In a previous post, I discussed how “going live” is gaining popularity across industries and verticals. What began as a way for gamers to jam together has evolved into a medium for broader entertainment and business purposes. To continue the conversation, this post unpacks the current trends of shoppable live streams to shine a light on how brands are leveraging “lives” to connect with shoppers in new ways.
The 1980s, When “Live” Started to Make Its Mark in Retail
Live selling debuted in the 1980s with home-shopping TV channels HSN and QVC, which served as an innovative way for mail-order catalogs to be brought to life. From the comfort of your couch, you’d watch the hosts and their guests promote the latest fashion, home decor, or kitchen gadgets. You could call in to ask questions about the merchandise, and there would always be time-sensitive deals for the duration of the TV segment.
Livestream shopping on the internet today is instantaneous and much more interactive. No longer do you call a 1-800 number to be put on hold. Through live chats on the video platform, you get immediate answers to your questions about garment fit or material, for example. Plus, livestreamers can read comments from the audience and, to build excitement and exclusivity, throw up an impromptu poll for fun and even show stock availability in real time to further entice people to buy. Add all of that to the captivation of social media, and it’s clear why livestream shopping is attracting a large following.
Live Streaming’s Potential in Leaving a Vital First Impression
Mike George, president of the group that now comprises both HSN and QVC, is also board chairman of the National Retail Federation (NRF). In an op-ed on *Fortune*, he states that livestream shopping is the “next big thing” in retail, thanks to this backdrop:
“The current livestream-shopping craze has its roots in China in the mid-2010s, when influencers began using live video apps to take their fans with them as they traveled to boutiques in New York or Los Angeles …. These virtual journeys offered viewers a glimpse of exotic locations with the option to discover and buy products that were not readily available in China.”
In that commentary, George also explains how “retailers and brands worldwide are racing to add live, interactive video experiences into their marketing mix.” Here’s why, as revealed by three consumer studies:
- Research from Vimeo Livestream found that 82% of consumers prefer to see a livestream video from a brand instead of a social-media post. Similarly, 80% would rather watch a live video than read a blog.
- In August 2020, a Facebook global survey reported that close to one-quarter of adults wanted to discover new brands or products from live streams, adding that 24% of those people were drawn to influencer-hosted live videos, and 23% by live shopping feeds from brand representatives.
- According to GlobalWebIndex, 17% of U.S. internet users “frequently watched live streams of influencers.” Of that group, 70% were likely to buy products from those influencers through live streams.
Doubtless, consumers on social media are eager to view shoppable live streams and, once they’re tuned in, they convert.
Livestream-Shopping Features in Social Channels
As Neil Patel points out, livestream shopping “combines live streaming, which you can already find on a lot of the big social-media platforms, with a direct purchasing feature … it’s like watching a live unboxing on YouTube, except that you can buy the product right then and there.”
In other words, it’s an easy, fast, and convenient experience. On social media, livestream shopping can become second nature for consumers, which is why all the tech giants have hopped aboard the livestream train:
- Facebook. Facebook acquired a startup in 2019 to start building its livestream offering. Just a few weeks ago, Facebook announced its summer series, Live Shopping Fridays, spotlighting apparel and beauty brands, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Bobbi Brown, Dolce Vita, and Sephora.
- Amazon. Many Amazon shoppers might not realize that Amazon offers live shopping. Last summer, ahead of the COVID-delayed Prime Day, the marketplace launched its Live Creator app, giving influencers the opportunity to earn commissions on their shoppable live streams. With this year’s Prime Day on June 21-23 just around the corner, let’s keep our eyes peeled to see how much livestream contributes to sales at Amazon.
- TikTok. In December 2020, Walmart partnered with TikTok to launch a shoppable livestream experience. During the event, Walmart reported that it “netted 7x more views than anticipated,” a 25% increase of its following on the platform. That phenomenal success prompted Walmart to host another event called Spring Shop-Along: Beauty Edition in March 2021.
- Instagram. At the end of summer 2020, Instagram rolled out its live-shopping capabilities with the addition of click-to-buy features to the existing livestream. With 87% of the people surveyed saying “that influencers have inspired them to make a purchase,” Instagram is making it a high priority to give influencers the livestreaming tools they need.
In addition to social media, several brands and retailers are dabbling in livestream in their own direct-to-consumer channels. A case in point is Nordstrom, which credits its belief that “great service lies at the intersection of convenience and connection” as motivation for the initiative. The retailer said in a press release, “Providing customers the convenience of finding products when and where they want them while creating a personalized experience is at the heart of our mission—serving customers on their terms.”.
Another example is Bloomingdale’s invite-only Zoom meetings for testing a live-broadcast selling experience. Having hosted 50 livestream shopping events during the pandemic, Bloomingdale stated that those events helped “drive purchases and gather more information” on its customers.
The Beginning of Live Streaming’s Prominence in Retail
What once started on television is now taking over other digital channels, and we’ll no doubt see even more live retail down the road. Livestream shopping generated $60 billion in global sales in 2019. Coresight Research estimates that, by 2023, livestream e-commerce is “poised to reach $25 billion in sales” in the U.S. alone. If that impressive projected growth is any indication, exciting times are ahead for retailers of all sizes to take advantage of.
Growth in Europe might be slower as consumers there become accustomed to the new avenue for e-commerce. As Forrester reports, Alibaba introduced its social commerce product, AliExpress, in Europe last May, adding that “as platforms like AliExpress and Amazon launch and promote live streaming, retailers experiment with it, and sellers pick up on it, evidence shows that consumers will adopt it quickly.”
For all the coverage of the rising popularity of livestream video in this post, we’ve barely skimmed the surface of all that retailers are doing in the “live” space. I’ll be back in a few weeks to elaborate on what comes after livestream shopping: repurposing of footage for on-demand viewing or for evergreen shoppable videos on your site. Please stay tuned.