E-commerce transformed the retail sector by offering convenience and the ability to shop 24/7. Personalised experiences took this one step further, providing one-on-one attention and targeted, tailored offers, treating shoppers as individuals. In the last year, with lockdown forcing millions to shop from their screens, the retail industry can no longer rely on connecting with consumers through physical in-store destinations.
It now needs to re-think its strategy, investing in new tech to create more powerful and engaging online experiences. While online shopping is already well-established, a worrying number of retailers have missed a trick in this respect. It needs to move beyond the convenience of ‘click to buy’ and ‘click to collect’, to embrace all the best bits of the physical shop – namely the human contact. Think interactions, recommendations and creating a lasting, memorable experience.
Livestream throws retail a lifeline
With in-store sales continuing to play catch-up in the wake of Covid-19, it’s a ‘do or die’ moment for many retailers. Technology is the answer and this is where livestream shopping has come into its own as a worthy contender, throwing a lifeline to retailers. Already well-established and successful in China – generating $170 billion in 2020, according to iResearch, livestream shopping is the next big thing to enter the world of e-commerce. It integrates influencer marketing, live videos and entertainment, and allows audiences to interact and converse with brands.
If you think about shopping channel QVC and the numbers that it generates, livestream shopping is a mouthwatering prospect – essentially taking the QVC home shopping model but making it faster, more in-your-face and with increased interaction. It’s also highly targeted due to the nature of online audiences. Crucially, it appeals to the hard-to-reach Gen Z, giving brands some ready-made content (their products) that they can use to connect and bond with a younger demographic. Convenience is a factor too. You can simply swipe to buy and perform a host of other interactions at the same time, such as engaging with an influencer/presenter, reading reviews and sharing the stream with friends. And you’re doing all of this from the same device and without leaving the platform.
Social media and fashion brands leading activity
Facebook launched Instagram Live in the US last year, while TikTok also recently announced the development of TikTok Live Stream Shopping, an e-commerce experience allowing users to purchase items from online retailers during live-streamed events. YouTube is the latest media platform to announce a pilot livestream, having previously tested an integrated shopping feature with video-on-demand.
TikTok’s move follows two tie-ups with WalMart. In December, the retailer used the platform to sell its products at a ‘Holiday Shop-Along Spectacular’ livestream, with Walmart CMO William White saying livestreams are ‘what users want’. This was followed by a second Walmart-hosted livestream on TikTok in March, a beauty shopping event featuring skincare, make-up and hair routines and products. And it’s not just about the purchases – it’s about the entertainment and educational factors too. In Walmart’s example, alongside the chance to buy, viewers streamed a 60-minute interactive tutorial featuring tips from beauty and make-up influencers such as Gabby Morrison.
Gucci Live has also experimented with the concept. During lockdown, it enabled its customers to communicate in real time with its client advisors via a video call on their mobiles and laptops. For the luxury brand, it was about replicating a valued in-store experience remotely and providing customers with the opportunity to benefit from store staff’s expertise. Swedish clothing brand Monki, owned by H&M Group, has been offering livestream shopping since 2019, through Swedish livestream platform Bambuser. According to the brand, it sees livestream as a channel enabling it to take ‘community co-creation one step further’.
Time-based FOMO triggers audiences
The time factor is all important too, with livestreams playing into people’s fear of missing out, prompting those all-important swipes and purchases from a captive audience. A Tommy Hilfiger livestream in China last August attracted 14 million viewers, resulting in 1,300 hoodies selling out in just two minutes.
L’Oreal and US department store chain Nordstrom are the latest brands to bet on livestream shopping. In June, the skincare company partnered with platform Livescale to host a three-day beauty festival, while Nordstrom created its own livestream channel earlier this year featuring brands such as Burberry. Nordstrom’s approach is as much about giving its customers real-time access to retail experts as it is about shopping for the latest styles. So far there have been fashion tips on how to wear Burberry runway looks with Q&A sessions and virtual styling experiences.
The future is growing
Compared to China, livestream shopping in the western world is still in the early stages, but it’s an exciting prospect and is challenging brands to strive for content that is relevant, relatable and trustworthy. As live streaming and immersive techs in VR and AI evolve, the digital opportunities for brands to connect with their audience will expand. From sitting in the front row at a VR fashion show to trying out in-game digital outfits – the appetite for new, immersive digital experiences will continue to grow.
Mark Mitchell, chief innovation officer and co-founder at Lively Agency.
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