Live Commerce: Everything You Need to Know

7 min read

Avatar Ellie Harris

27th April, 2021

Ecommerce

UK high street shops were already on the decline pre-COVID and combined with the pandemic, there have been more shop closures in the past year than ever before – more than 17,500, according to The Guardian. As a result of this, online shopping has surged and new trends are taking hold – most recently, live commerce.

China has led the way and has introduced live commerce – a new way for retailers to connect with their customers. It bridges the gap between the quick and efficient online experience and the in-store sensory experience. But how?

We’re used to dealing with chatbots, online customer support, mobile apps and next day delivery. Live commerce combines all of that as well as introducing live streaming. By bringing customers just that bit closer to the in-person experience without leaving the home, companies and customers can tap into a new, thriving retail environment, even after the high street doors have closed.

Different Types of Live Commerce

1. Online marketplaces

Online platforms like eBay and Alibaba are places where users can buy and sell with ease but the concept is becoming outdated and has been replicated by countless other businesses. To keep users engaged when they shop online, new features are being introduced to ensure online marketplaces stay relevant and increase revenue.

This is where live commerce fits in. By offering real-time interaction, buyers and sellers will feel like they’re at a physical marketplace but in the comfort of their own homes.

2. Live auctions

Instead of attending an auction house, buyers and sellers can connect online and worldwide. Live streaming an auction allows the bidding pool to expand which means there’s likely to be more buzz, more bidders and more competitive bids than ever before!

3. Influencer streaming

We’re used to seeing influencers of all types streaming on social media (whether that’s nano, micro, macro or mega influencers) and with the new demand for improved engagement, you will soon be seeing influencers diving into live streaming across e-commerce sites too.

To get a flavour for how influencers have been using live streaming previously, here are a couple of fun examples:

  • Cosmopolitan + influencer, Lauren Conrad – announcing her book launch to Cosmo’s fan base got Lauren Conrad more exposure, and in turn, this gave Cosmo’s Facebook following another reason to subscribe to the brand.
  • Nestlé + influencer Olga Kay – worked with influencers to film their summer holiday activities with their Drumstick ice-creams. This gave both Nestlé and Olga Kay exposure and the videos went viral.

4. Live events

Product launches, retail holidays, limited edition items, although all relevant to the aforementioned categories are more likely to be held as ‘live events’. Streaming these live events will make for quick and easy coverage, regionally, nationally and even globally. There’s also no consumer limit – which will increase buyer urgency.

5. Interviews and Q&As

As well as reading a Q&A blog, live streaming can also involve holding live Q&A sessions with specialists or frequent product users. This method humanises a brand and invites viewers into a conversation amongst the community.

What Are the Benefits of Live Commerce?

Shopping online without assistance can be difficult, and without anyone there to ask how big something is or what colours it’s available in can lead to cart abandonment. However, with the virtual presence of a shop assistant or influencer, your questions can be answered right there and then.

Other benefits include:

  • Improved customer relationships

Having a face behind a product can help to build that all-important trust with the customer. The more familiar people feel with a brand, the more likely they are to return to it and become life-long customers.

This is why live commerce can help to build better customer relationships because they’re able to view the product in real-time and see someone with it. This not only puts the product into perspective but also gives buyers a better feel for a product, which means they’re more likely to purchase it.

  • Improved understanding of what customers want

Hearing our customers during a live stream means immediate feedback on a product. Perhaps they don’t like the material or design – whatever it is, businesses can easily get hold of vital information that they would otherwise have to spend time to figure out through reviews, questionnaires or customer support.

Knowing what customers want will help businesses to understand customer demand and enable them to adapt quickly to better suit the market.

  • Reaches a larger audience

A brick and mortar shop is typically limited to those who live in the area or those that have come to visit, which means product accessibility is limited. However, live streaming reaches out to larger audiences meaning that the limit to scalability is almost non-existent. Ultimately, this means more eyes will be on products which, in turn, will increase brand awareness.

  • Helps businesses to get ahead of competitors

Quality live streaming sessions that are informative and engaging will boost sales. Live streaming can help businesses to stand out and allows for lots of creative ways for businesses to get ahead of competitors.

Finding the right employee or influencer to run live streams can make all the difference too. Thinking about their appeal, following and interest in the products will captivate and entice customers.

An excellent example of in-house streaming comes from The Cheese Shop, Nottingham. The owner regularly carries out live streams about the different types of cheese in stock and injects them with his own brand of charm.

  • Reduced overheads

The best thing about live streaming: it’s cheap. It doesn’t require lots of equipment, it can be done from a smartphone, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s done at home or in a retail space, so there are very few associated costs. This also means that live commerce can be done quickly and with little planning – perfect for a world where everyone’s fingers are on the pulse!

Where Did Live Commerce Come From?

Live commerce originated in China, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that they have the world’s leading e-commerce market and their live streaming market exceeded one trillion-yuan in 2020.

According to research from Statista, ‘In November 2019, the largest Chinese online retailer Alibaba announced a 20-billion-yuan sale from its live-streaming commerce business during the Single’s Day Shopping Festival.’

Here in the West, when we think of live streaming we think about Twitch, YouTube and other forms of digital entertainment. However, in China streaming is used as a shopping channel. Statista explains that ‘live streaming watchers in China was predicted to hit 526 million in 2020’.

Live commerce has also made its way onto social platforms in China including Douyin (globally known as Tik Tok).

Where is Live Commerce being used?

A few examples of live commerce being put to use include:

  • Amazon Live – currently being introduced in the US
  • OOOOO – UK’s first live streaming entertainment commerce app
  • Instagram live shopping – introduced in late 2020
  • Facebook Shops – currently being experimented with

Challenges of Live Commerce

While there are many benefits to live commerce there are some things to consider, including:

  • Product malfunctions – one of the benefits of pre-recorded ads is that you get to put all of your energy into displaying your product in the best light possible. On a live stream, however, you only get one take, so you need to make sure your quality checks are on point!
  • Technical issues – if there’s a lag in video, sales and questions could be missed, something frustrating for both you and the viewers.
  • Host blunders – live commerce requires a lot of time in front of a camera all in one go. If the host isn’t used to this, or they have a tendency to say things they don’t mean, this could result in bad press for your company. With this in mind, it’s worth ironing out any potential pain points before the cameras start rolling.
  • Audience availability – if you don’t have a reliable pre-existing audience then you’ll likely have to invest in pre-event marketing to increase viewership in time of the stream.
  • What to do with the footage? – one of the problems with live commerce is that, unlike traditional video content, it isn’t necessarily going to be archived. So what about the people that don’t get to see the stream? Is it worth saving it for them? You don’t want to run the risk of saturating your website with hours and hours of live streams, but equally, you don’t want eager customers to miss out.

Where could Live Commerce end up?

Live commerce works for big and small companies and could help startup businesses to really connect with their customer base.

For example, there are already apps and websites out there where you can send a picture of your wilting houseplant to a plant doctor in order to keep it alive. This is a great feature because it makes buyers feel more confident about their purchase. The next step for such a company would be to offer live streams where people can receive immediate support and show the plant doctor in real-time to discuss its diagnosis.

There’s so much scope when it comes to live commerce that it could even end up as part of a VR experience too. Commercial VR has already started to take shape in the form of 360° shop tours as demonstrated by John Lewis.

What’s the Point of Live Commerce?

Live commerce enhances customer experience, providing the buyer with all the information they need to make a purchase – and what better way to improve sales, rankings and reviews by keeping customers happy?

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