Introducing Live Shopping, the Next Frontier in Online Retail

Live shopping - online retail

When QVC first launched in 1986, it was hailed as the future of shopping. Now, over thirty years later, the novelty has worn off – but there’s a new kid on the block, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Enter live shopping. This format, where brands and influencers go live on social media to demo and display products to shoppers, is already making up 9% of all e-commerce sales in China. In Europe and the US, it hasn’t yet made real waves – you might not have heard of it, and it might seem like one step too far in the digitisation of the everyday shopping experience. But to understand its appeal, and why Forrester predicts ‘shoppertainment’ will grow fast in Europe in the coming years – with 70% of Europeans interested in it – we can look to another fast-growing online entertainment platform. 

Ten years ago, gamers gamed – they logged on to their consoles, joined up with friends or strangers, and gamed together. Now, gamers watch other gamers game. Hundreds of millions of them. Twitch has more than 140 million monthly active users, who stream themselves gaming or tune in to watch their favourites do the same. If 140 million gamers are this invested in watching others game live, why wouldn’t millions of online shoppers start to do the same? 

The dawn of live shopping

After a year in and out of lockdown, we’ve seen retail in the UK and Europe shift online – two-thirds of those surveyed by Forrester said they have been buying more online, 31% significantly more. This means high street retailers have been feeling the pain, closing stores and even shutting up shop completely. So, a new way to see big returns via e-commerce is a welcome relief. 

Brands such as L’Oreal have already seen success from live shopping. Early on in COVID-19, L’Oreal launched shoppable livestreams using the app Livescale. Its experience features presenters that give live makeup tutorials and answer audience questions. Customers can also receive discounts and purchase products without leaving the platform. By September 2020, the brand’s e-commerce business had grown more than 60%.

To see success, there are a few key factors at play. The first is creating meaningful, personalised experiences with live video streaming to sell products. Live stream shopping enables brands to deliver a more personal experience for those tuning in from their phone or tablet – replicating the in-store experience from the comfort of home. The second is two-way communication. Live shopping allows consumers to interact with brand representatives in real-time to ask questions and add comments before making a purchase. Customers can see an influencer or spokesperson interact with the product and demonstrate its use, prompting immediate action and enhanced community participation. 

Given Forrester found electronics, fashion, and cosmetics are the top areas online shoppers would be keen for ‘shoppertainment’, it’s no surprise that e-commerce brands such as Estee Lauder are working with live streaming apps that incorporate product purchasing into one platform. Brands like Walmart and Tommy Hilfiger are testing the waters as well, with Tommy Hilfiger hosting live shopping sessions and Walmart testing out live video shopping on TikTok. And it’s delivering on ROI: one platform calculated an average conversion rate of 9.5% for its clients’ shopping events. 

Starting to stream

Fortunately, brands already have most of the technology at their fingertips with their existing social channels and product catalogues to take advantage of the latest trends like live streaming, but there are other tools necessary to bring live streaming to scale. They need the right measurement tools, promotional materials, and content development to make live events successful. Rather than using point solutions for various functions, brands who are using one unified CRM platform – that can track audience engagement on various social media channels, provide customer insights, and give a complete picture of the end-to-end customer journey – will come out on top.

This is because during the live shopping experience, brands will need to master social media interactions with advanced customer data management technology. Brands often go into ‘live’ experiences unprepared to quickly sort messages into marketing, sales, and care inboxes. This means customers’ queries go unanswered, and sales are missed out on as a result. If brands can’t provide simple and seamless experiences throughout the customer journey, they won’t be able to make live shopping a success – every piece of the puzzle from the research and purchase stages, all the way to post-purchase support, must work in harmony.

It’s also important for brands to optimise their social media strategy to take advantage of that network’s social commerce features. Regardless of whether they point visitors back to their site to complete their shopping experience or leverage the native social commerce features for a given network, brands must always have the customer experience in mind. Taking advantage of artificial intelligence within CRM platforms can help brand teams analyse all social media interactions and sort them into marketing, sales, and care categories. The corresponding team can then address the engagements and respond accordingly in a timely manner – keeping customers happy and loyal.

The future is live

As the COVID-19 pandemic shifted consumers’ buying habits, it also changed their mindsets. The lines between social media and shopping are becoming blurred – for example, TikTok is launching an in-app live shopping feature – but this varies from country to country, and industry to industry. In the UK, consumers are less open to shoppertainment, but trustworthiness and entertainment value – as well as mobile-friendly streams – are top of their list. In France, influencers are an important part of the puzzle, while Spain is all about the deals. Social shopping grew 35% in 2020 according to eMarketer, while the live streaming industry is expected to be valued at an enormous $184.27 billion USD by 2027. Brands need to plug into what their customers crave if they want to make the most of the opportunities live shopping presents. Only then can they engage customers in new and exciting ways, and streamline the sales process – ultimately providing a much-needed boost to revenue.

Credit: Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Socialbakers

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