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GUEST COMMENT Livestream shopping: Taking the in-store experience online

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

The pandemic has brought in sweeping changes to our shopping habits. In US and European markets, ecommerce has been a key lifeline for brands and retailers, and we saw a widespread switch to digital to stay afloat; further afield, however, we’ve seen a new trend take hold in China’s already digitally mature, mobile-driven economy: Livestream shopping.

Selling products through video demonstrations became a popular format in the 1990s with the likes of QVC. Fast forward to 2021, and we’ve seen Livestream shopping emerge as the next stage in the evolution of teleshopping. Driven by the closure of non-essential retail amid global lockdowns, and a surge in digital content consumption, shopping via Livestream has presented people with a curated and service-oriented way to shop in the absence of physical retail. 

The pandemic’s behavioural changes are here to stay, and we may see this new means of commerce reach mass adoption as the digital retail landscape continues to evolve.

The beginnings of Livestream shopping

Live shopping typically involves an influencer or celebrity on live video sharing products, answering questions, and closing sales with customers who have joined remotely to watch, chat and buy. Its roots are traced back to China during the mid-2010s when influencers began using live video apps as a means of taking fans with them as they travelled abroad. 

While still in its infancy in the US and Europe, Livestream shopping has turned into big business in China, and is now a prominent feature on many of China’s eCommerce apps. For example, Taobao’s sales event for Singles Day in 2019 featured an eight-hour Livestream that attracted over 43 million customers. Its popularity has peaked over the past year as non-essential retail was forced to close, with the Chinese shopping giant’s 2020 ‘618’ event hitting $280 million in just 90 minutes

Recreational commerce

Where the likes of Amazon are ideal for convenience-led purchases, Livestream shopping represents a move into more recreational commerce. In fashion and beauty, for example, potential buyers are often looking for opinions and to understand the story of a product before buying – viewing products on a catwalk, or held in the hand of a model hosting the Livestream, provides customers with more information than a traditional eCommerce site ever could. Livestream shopping allows users to see how colours might look in a different light or the size of a piece of clothing in relation to a model’s body. This helps to overcome traditional barriers to online shopping by recreating in-store experiences for the digital world.

Curated exploration is the future of mobile-driven social commerce, and right now the big companies in the US and Europe still have a lot to learn. That said, we are seeing a variety of approaches emerge. Instagram, for example, has added shopping capabilities to its app, including Instagram live; meanwhile, Amazon launched Amazon Live in 2019, enabling brands to create their own programming in a bid to take on QVC. We’ve also heard reports TikTok is working on launching Livestream shopping, where users can buy products after seeing them advertised by the platform’s curators.

Gen Z and younger generations are growing up in a world where Livestreaming is a normal behaviour, and they will expect the same real-time engagement they have with their friends, from brands and retailers. 

A different type of shopper

The success of live shopping in Asia comes down to the difference between the two markets. In China, for example, eCommerce is largely centred around mobile commerce, with the average ShopShops customer spending 44 hours per year on the app. Western consumers, however, tend to be less tech-savvy when it comes to their shopping, and having to download any new apps acts as a stumbling block in the buying journey. 

The Chinese eCommerce supper apps – the likes of Taobao, Pinduoduo, and WeChat – are miles ahead of Facebook and Instagram in terms of functionality, collaboration, and payments. It would be comparable to one app that was an amalgamation of Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp, which syncs with Amazon for payment. But the longer a user engages with the content, the more likely they are to buy something as a result. Expect shopping via Livestream to become more prevalent in US and Europe markets as the industry becomes more digitally focussed.

Getting it right

The success of shopping via Livestream will depend on the ability to do everything in one place. Brands looking to make the move should ensure they have the technical integrations and order management systems required for the full transaction to take place within the social platform, rather than being redirected to an eCommerce site. Not only this but upholding security will be central – the Chinese market has shown high-value transactions are possible through live shopping, owing to trust in the brand and the security of the platform.

There’s ultimately a difference between buying and shopping, and consumers are increasingly showing that they want to shop – to explore new brands and products and have an experience. While social commerce currently isn’t anything more than an engagement tool in most markets, we’ll likely see appetite grow as digital content consumption continues to rise.


Elliott Jacobs, Digital Marketing Director at LiveArea EMEA

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