Menu Menu

Can livestream shopping survive in a post-lockdown world?

Early excitement about the potential of livestream shopping in the West is dwindling. Can the industry really take off now that the high street has opened up?

During the pandemic, Western brands began experimenting with livestream shopping, a technology that contributed $4.4 billion USD to China’s economy in 2018.

Lockdown or not, China’s livestream shopping industry thrives, with more than 100 million viewers tuning into live online video events every month. Chinese culture frames shopping as a hobby or form of entertainment, making it the perfect market for this to take off.

During livestream shopping events, brands invite well-known influencers or celebrities to demonstrate products and answer questions about them to draw in audiences.

This ‘no-filter’ type of promotion sees a product tested in real time, giving viewers a new sense of reassurance when deciding to ‘add to basket’ during the event.

Livestream shopping draws inspiration from televised shopping channels popularised in the 1980s such as QVC and HSN, where presenters sell anything from jewellery to kitchenware, encouraging users to call in to purchase.

But in our digital age, consumers are less likely to buy products this way – a massive 66 percent of products shown on QVC were bought through in-app purchases in 2018.

Instead, users want to gain knowledge about products by exploring information on a website or mobile app. As a result, retailers have learned the need to constantly adapt their marketing and interface capabilities.

So as high streets shut down and we became glued to our screens (and sofas), brands in the West began searching for new ways to get us engaged. Looking at the numbers, it seemed like China was onto something huge.

Live stream shopping looked like a way to cure us of lockdown boredom, while also convincing us to make a purchase. Because let’s be honest, we were desperate for a rush of dopamine at any cost – remember sourdough starters and Houseparty? Yikes.

Anyhow, one brand to incorporate livestreaming into the shopping experience was global brand Monki, owned by H&M.

Hosting the event directly on its website, shoppers watched as the Monki’s editor-in-chief and buyer showcased a range of clothing. Viewers could add various products to basket while watching, then exit the stream to make their payment.

The success of this event remains unclear, as Monki did not release any sales figures or participant data afterwards. However, high fashion retailers, such as Neiman Marcus and Moda Operandi have said their video commerce technology was successful and will be continued in the future.

For these brands, conversion rates sit at about 40 percent for livestream events. But now that stores have opened, brands remain uncertain about how realistic it will be to keep consumers engaged in online spaces this way.

It’s clear some serious refinement needs to take place. For example, needing to exit the stream to buy a product takes away from what is supposed to be an uninterrupted ‘shopping x entertainment’ experience.

Many experts feel that the Western tastes for live shopping will look different from China’s, and that it might take a few years of developing streamlined technologies and advertising strategies to get it quite right.

What is clear, is that consumers are eager for ways to connect to brands – so as long as they feel authentic and unpolished – as well as an experience that fosters a connection to a wider community.

It makes sense, as products have sold out completely after being popularised on TikTok. Products backed by humans on interactive platforms evidently harnesses a sense of trust and transparency that traditional e-commerce cannot.

Perhaps it’ll be a while before livestream shopping fully catches on, but it wouldn’t be surprising if we see a platform similar to TikTok or Instagram Live emerge in the near future, with brands releasing exclusive drops or detailed product insights to their followers.

For now, though, I’ll catch you on the high street.