Live Commerce: How Streaming Is Transforming ShoppingJune 28, 2019
Live commerce, a new term used to describe the combination of streaming video and e-commerce, promises to revolutionize the retail industry and consumer shopping habits. Here’s a rundown of how live commerce is taking shape, trends in the retail space, and our predictions for what’s next.
The Evolving Retail Industry
Brick-and-mortar retail stores are shutting their doors. This year alone, 5,994 store closures have been announced in the U.S. Two decades since the founder of Zappos first pitched the idea of selling shoes via the internet (and struggled to convince investors), online shopping has taken over.
Need a recipe and all of its ingredients delivered directly to your door? No problem. Craving Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter without a store nearby? Order it online. Eager to take advantage of Labor Day sales while on vacation? There’s an app for that.
If there’s one thing Zappos has taught us, it’s that customer experience matters. The retail giant got ahead by encouraging customers to order multiple sizes of the same product, and then providing a free and easy way to return whatever didn’t fit.
Today, chatbots and mobile apps allow online retailers to ensure customer success. Machine learning technologies also provide personalized recommendations based on a user’s click history. And overnight delivery has become commonplace.
Even so, some aspects of the in-store experience go missing when shopping in the digital world.
Cue in live commerce. By fusing online retail with live streaming, today’s companies are attempting to bring consumers one step closer to the in-person experience.
Live Commerce in China
Just as online shopping transformed retail twenty years ago, live streaming promises to transform e-commerce today. Dubbed live commerce, this convergence of video and shopping helps improve engagement, close the gap between customer and product, drive sales, and — in cases where bidding is involved — increase the average sales price.
The trend dominates the market in China. Taobao — the world’s biggest e-commerce website — empowers farmers, business owners, and self-employed entrepreneurs with consumer-to-consumer live streaming. The Alibaba-owned platform lets users engage via live-streaming features and a dedicated standalone app.
Successful influencers on Taobao ascend to celebrity-like status, helping elevate the shopping experience from mundane to swanky. And just like at a Nordstrom beauty counter, consumers can ask questions and learn application techniques. Beyond just generating fans, the top sellers bring home serious bucks. In 2018, 81 top live commerce influencers on Taobao generated over $15 million in sales.
Curious which industries perform best? Jewelry, fashion, accessories, and skincare dominated Taobao in 2018.
Live Commerce in Korea and Across Asia Pacific (APAC)
Hot on China’s heels, South Korea also has stake in the live-commerce game. LF Corp combines live streaming with real-time chat and one-click purchases to create seamless shopping experiences. This has resulted in a 30% year-over-year increase since 2015.
Then there’s TMON (formerly Ticket Monster), a Korean subsidiary of Groupon. Whereas LF Corp specializes in the sale of clothing, TMON commands the product, grocery, and travel verticals. By bringing a wide range of shopping experiences to mobile devices, TMON has grown its sales revenue exponentially over the past five years.
The role that live streaming plays in these APAC countries can’t be overemphasized. More than 100 million viewers in China watch a live online video event every month, and revenue from the online-video market is supposed to surge from $3.5 billion to $17.6 billion between 2015 and 2020.
South Korea and China are growing faster than any other country in the Asian live-stream market, with the average growth across this area (which includes China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam) forecast at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46.4 percent.
Live Commerce in the USA
Although certainly late to the party, Amazon launched Amazon Live in 2019. Think Home Shopping Network goes digital, with the addition of icons fluttering on the screen each time a purchase is made. Models try on different outfits while hosts describe the material and fit, guest presenters demonstrate how to use different tools, and the top five toys are showcased for viewers.
Similarly, JTV (Jewelry Television) moved from a restrictive cable model that limited its audience to those on specific cable plans to an internet distribution model allowing for global viewership. Shoppers can now make purchases and watch live channels 24/7 on iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and more.
Without a doubt, though, western entrepreneurs have lagged behind when it comes to the fusion of tech and retail that we now call live commerce.
“China used to be thought of as the copy cats … expect more western tech and retail leaders to be inspired by the omnichannel retail, social commerce, and mobile commerce innovations in China.”
For exactly this reason, the trend is starting to catch on in much more innovative ways.
The San Francisco-based mobile shopping startup Dote released a new feature called Shopping Party this year — backed by $12 million in new funding. Founder and CEO Lauren Farleigh wanted to recreate the experience of a social trip to the mall. So, she incorporated influencers and live streaming into a mobile app. The virtual mall experience combines scrolling products on display, a live video of the influencer promoting each item, and a chat box for viewers to ask questions.
What’s Next for Live Commerce
Kohl’s was an early adapter of live commerce by streaming the LC Lauren Conrad Runway show during the 2015 New York Fashion Week. Delivered via Periscope, viewers had the option to purchase any garments seen on the catwalk via a dedicated portal.
But what if viewers could get one step closer? Immersive 3D experiences using virtual reality (VR) could accomplish just that — allowing buyers to study the clothing from every angle and experience the excitement of being in the crowd.
Augmented reality (AR) also promises to push live commerce forward. Picture this: After purchasing a new home, you enlist the expert help of an interior designer working at your favorite home furniture store. Within an app, you’re able to show the designer the space you’re working with. Then, using augmented reality, you can try the representative’s suggested furniture on for size. Simply point your camera at the empty space, and let the app overlay an image of the couch, table, or rug you selected.
Moving Live Commerce Forward
While AR/VR technologies open up endless possibilities, innovation in live commerce leaves plenty to be desired without getting too fancy.
A new gardener might choose to visit a garden center rather than shop online out of the need to speak with someone. So why not create a solution where users can live-stream while a garden expert diagnoses whether their plants are suffering from gray mold or spider mites? By video chatting with a representative and streaming their sick plant, the buyer would be more confident about their purchase (and more likely to spend money).
No, live commerce isn’t an exact replica of the in-store shopping experience. But in an economy where customer experience dictates which brands live and which brand die, why not reach shoppers on their own terms?