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Opinion

Shoppable Livestream Influencer Marketing: Is Social Media Turning into QVC?

Livestream shopping is coming to mobile, and it's overhauling both e-commerce strategies and influencer marketing. How can retailers and creators master this new digital experience?

Ever rolled your eyes at someone recording a live gig on their phone? In 2020, that changed. Livestreamed gigs took social media from a sharing platform where users posted about external events, to the space where events were actually happening.

Livestreaming provides a direct, impulsive connection. Followers of influencers or ‘hosts’ on a livestream experience the ultimate in ephemeral content: even if the session is recorded, only live viewers can engage in real-time – and interact to directly affect the content. 

Herein lies a compelling opportunity for e-commerce. Jem Leslie, SEO & Content Manager at Fanbytes, shares the ways retailers and influencers can forge this new connection.

Where the ultimate challenge is to convert awareness into sales, attention is everything. Online shoppers may comfortably leave an item in their cart – usually abandoning it. But in a livestream, there’s more urgency: viewers purchasing mid-stream see their impact in real-time. Combined with time-limited tactics such as one-off coupons, it generates exclusivity – and a human connection otherwise unattainable in e-commerce.

For brands willing to move fast enough, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to build a deeper relationship with customers – one that creates true two-way connections and sees sales skyrocket.

The blueprint for livestream influencer marketing

Livestream social commerce is already big news in China. Since the arrival of Alibaba’s Taobao Live in May 2016, the Chinese livestream shopping market reached an estimated $63 billion in 2019. Naturally, lockdowns accelerated that growth. TaoBao Live, along with competitors Kuaishou and Pinduoduo saw a boom in activity in 2020 that hasn’t slowed. The Chinese livestream market is expected to reach $423 billion by 2022. According to McKinsey, two-thirds of Chinese consumers bought products via livestream in the last year. 

According to this report, these companies see conversion rates of 30%; a figure up to ten times higher than conventional e-commerce in the same verticals.

Livestream marketing may be novel for social media, but not so for television. First popularised in the 1980s, television shopping channels appeal to the same impulses that make influencer livestream marketing compelling. 

The most well-known of all television shopping channels, QVC takes its name from “Quality Value Convenience”. In the ‘80s, that proposition held more literal significance: teleshopping was the fastest access to retail. Emphasising quality and value, meanwhile, spoke to shoppers’ desire for authentic products first encountered on a screen. 

In 2022, online shoppers value speed – but where modern life has limited interpersonal interactions, it’s the immediacy of the host’s response (as well as intuitive UX and fast shipping) that creates a pull. The modern desire for authenticity reaches further too: where highly curated influencer feeds now induce fatigue, unrehearsed, on-the-spot livestream influencer content stands out for its fresh, relatable appeal.

In today’s take on livestream influencer marketing, it’s increasingly the role of the influencer as well as the product to embody the values driving their channel and fully harness the benefits of livestream.

The new contenders

Shopify’s recent integration with TikTok signifies the e-commerce platform’s faith in livestreamed social commerce. The partnership comes in the wake of TikTok’s rollout of its expanded LIVE platform, meaning TikTok users can now seamlessly purchase items featured in livestreams, while engaging with new live features including events, co-hosts, and Q&As. 

It’s not just TikTok bringing livestream social influencer marketing to the West, however. A number of apps – including Popshop Live, NTWRK, Whatnot, Supergreat, and Galaxy Live – have received millions in venture capital over the past 18 months. In the meantime, Amazon introduced Amazon live, and Meta created Instagram Live Shopping.

In US-based Popshop Live, livestream hosts upload their e-commerce inventory to create clickable product links accessible during the show. It’s well suited to small businesses that host stock on platforms like Shopify, which is integrated with the platform. Like NTWRK and Whatnot, it largely caters to sellers of toys and streetwear; verticals that suit livestreaming for its gamified UX and limited ‘stock drops’ – a method pioneered by Supreme – respectively.

Breaking this mould are apps like Supergreat and Galaxy Live. The former is a shopping app for beauty. Working on an affiliate model, Supergreat influencers stream reviews for a commission on purchases. Galaxy Live, meanwhile, is bringing livestreaming to sustainable fashion. Sellers of pre-loved or handmade items can showcase items to sell faster than marketplace competitors such as Depop.

And the giants? Amazon Live’s platform allows flexibility for influencers to partner with brands through sponsorships and affiliate marketing. It looks and feels more like television shopping channels; its landscape screens and influencer presentation styles are more akin to QVC.

Instagram Live Shopping and TikTok LIVE shopping, on the other hand, take shoppable live streams directly into a customer’s social space. Currently, only merchants can set up a shoppable livestream, as they must integrate their shop and enable checkout prior to the show. However, both TikTok and Instagram’s co-hosting features mean influencers can effectively ‘partner’ with brands to market products via livestream on their own channels. 

As these platforms continue to develop, the nuanced differences between influencer techniques on each will present themselves more keenly. On a dedicated shopping app, for instance, many viewers will actively tune in to watch the show, whereas a social media platform’s livestream may attract more casual viewers. Understanding why an audience joins – and what they’re expecting to see – will become increasingly important for creating high-performing content that drives conversions.

Where marketing goes next

Where influencer marketing and livestream shopping coalesce is trust. 

App users, particularly Gen Z, report increasing trust in influencer marketing over other forms of advertising. They expect influencers to represent brands and products that they genuinely recommend.

Livestream likewise necessitates genuine interaction. As Estée Lauder explained to Vogue, “[livestream influencers] allow us to reach their audiences and drive new users to our brand through an authentic dialogue with their followers.” 

All brands benefit from the human relatability this offers, but for new businesses or peer-to-peer sellers, this offers a vital opportunity to showcase products and demonstrate their legitimacy. 

On resale marketplaces, sellers of luxury items often encounter custom image requests. Shoppers recognise the ease with which a scammer could upload a fraudulent image in a product listing. By responding with a custom image of the item (for example, beside a household object), a seller demonstrates their validity as a genuine merchant. 

This is where livestream comes into its own. Want to see the dress from the back? Or how the lining looks? On livestream, that’s easy. Considering Gen Z’s increasing demand for sustainability and the extraordinary recent growth of Depop, livestream peer-to-peer resale is a likely future for fashion e-commerce.

And when the world is ready for real-life events again? A vision of the future comes from Ellesse, who recently teamed up with singer Zara Larsson to create the world’s first ‘shoppable livestream gig’. TikTok influencers danced to a choreographed routine while wearing the fashion brand’s latest collection. Their videos stood in as ‘backing dancers’ on the screens at Larsson’s concert – and those tuning in during the livestream on TikTok could access clickable items of clothing to purchase.

Livestream influencer social commerce creates an extra dimension for customers and audiences, giving a sense of privileged access. It feels real and gives agency to the shopper. The figures so far speak for themselves. Brands that can quickly adapt to this new form of marketing will be the ones customers remember for all the right reasons.

Getting your phone out at a gig? Forget eye-rolling. The only thing rolling here are pound signs.