There are few retailers in the west who haven't heard about the east's massive live-shopping industry. But there are a lot fewer businesses that have actually realized its promise. While there have been individual cases of success, the more optimistic predictions suggest that just 3.3% of US online retail sales could be driven by live streaming by 2024, while other forecasters can't even put a number on it because the share is so small.
This is partially because it's still early days for the tech outside of Asia – Instagram's live-shopping feature is available only in the US, for example – but also because the online retail culture is different. Socializing and shopping happen on several different platforms, unlike with China's ‘super apps’, which consolidate all aspects of digital life. Data protection legislation and privacy-focused software tweaks also mean there's less micro targeting. On TikTok, influencer-hosted live shopping – which is the standard in China – hasn't caught on as quickly in the UK.
Still, some small brands are finding serious success by forging their own live-shopping path, with the focus on owning the experience and using the tool for more than sales. Here's what the early adopters are discovering.
What live-shopping platforms are out there?
Colorado-based jewelry brand Rachel Lynn x Corri Lynn was born out of live streaming. Co-founder Corri McFadden had used Instagram Live video as a sales vehicle for her designer consignment business, and she then used the same tool – and the audience she had built – to launch a new digital-first brand. While she still uses Instagram Live, Corri found she got the best results via embedded video from Bambuser, a social commerce app, because it provides extra features, such as clickable images, and allows for more ownership over data and experience.
‘If you're dependent on a platform with no control over or access to the back-end data aside from what they give to you, you're on their ride, not yours,’ she says. ‘With embedded shopping, you're on your platform. You're in control of your data, you're on your site.’
Create community, not just content
Roz Brabner, head of e-commerce at London-based beauty brand Pai Skincare, estimates around 10% of the business' revenue is driven by live shopping, but the real benefit has been interacting with customers. Pai Skincare creates products for those with sensitive skin – many of its customers have specific needs and have suffered bad experiences with products. The comment section of the brand's live streams often turns into a conversation between customers sharing what's worked or what they'd like to see tweaked, allowing Pai Skincare to build personal relationships with customers and better understand what they need.
‘There's the commercial side but, to build a brand that'll last a long time, you need deep relationships with customers and [to] understand customers more,’ Roz says. ‘They're asking us questions live. We now know what our customers are motivated by and their biggest concerns.’
More event than entertainment
While live shopping is closely linked with entertainment in China, few brands have the resources to maintain a continuous stream of content when a customer could tune in at any time. With that in mind, small brands are focused on creating events that can draw in bigger audiences. Pai Skincare hosts holiday quizzes, which has led to more people showing up to regularly scheduled video, while Rachel Lynn x Corri Lynn has sent personalized gifts to customers to drum up excitement ahead of product drops.
‘As a small business, we have limited time and energy. We do shows only when we have enough new products, because we want to keep the shows exciting,’ says Chloe Zhao, co-founder of jade jewelry brand Seree, which started live streaming on shopping platform Popshop Live last year.