Say you’re watching a demonstration of a new handbag, much like consumers have been doing on their televisions from their living rooms for decades. But you’re wondering: What does that interior pocket look like?
If the brand is selling through a live commerce channel, you might just be able to ask.
Likewise, the host might ask in return: In a future collection, would a different pocket placement work better?
Welcome to the interactive, immersive, fluid, personalized and still emerging next level of ecommerce. Consider it the latest import from China: Within a handful of years, livestream shopping has exploded there, predicted to be up to a $170 billion business in 2020.
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U.S. brands and retailers have begun experimenting. Walmart has brought shoppable livestream experiences to TikTok, including a “Spring Shop-Along: Beauty Edition” with creator Gabby Morrison, who has more than 3.5 million TikTok followers.
Nordstrom has offered a series of livestream events with founders and experts from brands like Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani, Charlotte Tilbury, Drybar, Anastasia Beverly Hills and UOMA Beauty. The Home Depot is also in on the trend, livestreaming homeowner basics and do-it-yourself workshops. Those workshops are interactive but not directly shoppable; some attendees receive a coupon for 15 percent off a purchase.
Marshall Weiss, director of marketing at The Home Depot, says the pandemic accelerated the company’s implementation of livestream workshops; plans were already underway. There are now about 40 livestream events each month; pre-COVID, there were roughly five a month in-store. Livestreaming, Weiss says, has enabled an increase in attendance in addition to frequency.
“At The Home Depot, our goal is always to help our customers complete their projects,” Weiss says. “Through our livestreams, we are able to offer guidance and support to our customers to ‘Help Doers Get More Done.’”
“How the customer shops from discovery to delivery has evolved to become increasingly digital,” a Nordstrom spokesperson told NRF. “The pandemic has only further accelerated these changes in behavior as customers are increasingly connected and mobile.”
Livestreaming “allows Nordstrom to meet the ever-changing needs and expectations of our customers, and equips our team with more tools to deliver on our commitment to serve our customer wherever, whenever and however they want to shop.”
Time for exploration
Mark Yuan, co-founder and CEO of And Luxe., a U.S.-based livestream commerce consultancy and business/tech solution provider, says now is the time for exploration. Within 12-18 months, he predicts, the United States will see “significant traction” with livestreaming. And within five years? “Livestreaming will be a very important part of ecommerce.”
And Luxe began as a buying office for Chinese retailers, and became an expert in helping global brands enter the Chinese market. It was at the forefront of pioneering livestream shopping in the U.S. in 2016, and has since showcased close to 200 brands through 800 live selling events and more than 3,000 hours of original live content.
“Many of the doubters [will] say that Chinese consumers are different, that American consumers don’t shop that way,” Yuan says. “But don’t forget that the U.S. was the country that started social media … . We are a social society, a collective. We like to stay in touch, and meet people who have a similar interest in things. If you can build a platform that focuses on building that community, that’s a tremendous opportunity.”
"Livestream selling fundamentally solves a number of problems that traditional ecommerce doesn’t."Mark Yuan, co-founder and CEO of And Luxe.
Livestream selling “fundamentally solves a number of problems that traditional ecommerce doesn’t,” he says. First, an increasing number of consumers are discovering brands through video content and social media. Wyzowl recently reported that 84 percent of people say they’ve been convinced to buy a product or service by watching a brand’s video, and 96 percent of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service.
And yet, there’s often not a seamless, integrated ecommerce solution that makes that sale a direct process.
Second, Yuan says, although ecommerce continues to expand, “it has become two-dimensional, too flat and too crowded,” he says. “It doesn’t offer the type of interactive and personal shopping experience you normally get when you go into a store.”
Neither live chats nor chatbots do the trick, he says, and unanswered questions can lead to cart abandonment. Livestreaming, on the other hand, “helps brands and retailers build direct, social and meaningful relationships with their customers.”
Yuan sees livestreaming as most effective for retail segments with a large number of SKUs, like apparel. Other options: shoes and accessories, luxury goods and beauty products. In these cases, he says, there’s a lot for presenters to talk about with consumers, and for consumers to talk with each other about through chat.
These conversations can be a rich source of data, too. Events primarily draw the millennial and Generation Z age groups, and there’s great diversity in whether brands and retailers build their own capabilities or work with third-party providers.
Nordstrom has worked with a partner for its livestream events. Customers click on links to the products being shown; a new tab opens in their browser, allowing them to purchase the items at Nordstrom.com.
Jeana Asmaro, vice president of global customer experience at CX management firm Sitel, notes that adding an ecommerce element to livestreaming events creates a faster and more desirable sales cycle. It can also provide a more in-depth shopping experience.
“In addition to brand ambassadors, livestreaming allows retailers to bring in influencers, athletes and celebrities to walk their store, shop their favorite items and interact with consumers over livestream,” Asmaro says.
“Whether it’s talking about ‘how to wear this’ or décor tips for your home, it’s creating a live experience that you can have regardless of where you’re located.”
There is a potential downside if it’s not executed properly, Asmaro says. “In a livestream, you have to listen to the customers, read their comments, respond and be sure to fulfill. The customer service touch doesn’t go away because you have an Influencer talking live. The livestream is simply another touchpoint to give your customers, where retailers have to make sure they are giving another great experience.”
A final note: For brands and retailers making a go of it, it’s important to consider volume, Asmaro says. “A livestream can bring in a lot of viewers, a lot of questions and a lot of orders. Retailers have to be ready for that boost in volume in every area of the business.”