This article on the growth of e-commerce livestreaming was written by Greg Paull and first featured in MARKETING Weekender

Retailers are hurting. In-store sales are experiencing double-digit declines with stores either completely shut or operating at limited capacity. Without foot traffic, brands that are reliant on in-store sales are forced to go where audiences are, which, in these strange times, is on social networks. A study across 30 markets showed a 61% increase in social media use during the peak of the pandemic and messaging across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have surged by 50% in countries hardest hit by the virus.

Moving the shopping experience to social networks has been relatively easy thanks to pre-pandemic planning by social media and e-commerce platforms who anticipated that the combination of livestreaming and online shopping would eventually take off. COVID-19 has only accelerated the inevitable. Today, you can shop on Instagram or TikTok or Twitch, or log into Taobao or Lazada and watch people sell a range of products while interacting with viewers in real-time. Checkout is only one click away.

The Perfect Storm

Three factors have been critical to the growth of e-commerce livestreaming: the role of influencers, the expanding functionality of social platforms, and enforced social distancing. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in China where by the end of 2020, the country will have 524 million online livestreaming users. This means 40% of China’s population and 62% of the country’s internet users will be livestreamers. The total scale of China’s livestreaming e-commerce industry reached RMB 433 billion (USD 62 billion) in 2019 and is expected to double by the end of 2020.

Globally, e-commerce livestreaming is picking up. The pace in other markets has been slower than China where super apps make reach exponential, but the future of retail is clearly pointing in this direction. Brands like Tommy Hilfiger and H&M have been experimenting with self-hosted e-commerce livestreaming, showcasing new collections and trends in North America and Europe from a distance. In Southeast Asia, markets like Thailand and Indonesia have experienced early success with programming through shopping apps, though work still needs to be done in areas of production, platform adoption and audience awareness for it to become the lucrative retail channel it can be.

Growth Factor #1 – The Rise of the Super Host

Although Southeast Asians are active on the same social media channels as their Western counterparts, overall use is quite different. Southeast Asian influencers create content that resonates with highly local audiences, complete with their own cultural background, language, and social codes. In comparison to Western influencers, they produce more unedited, “raw” content, and are more inclined to share views on their passions and interact with followers in their own unique way. For this reason, marketers need to invest in identifying the right host for an e-commerce livestream to ensure that outcomes align with KPIs.

An influencer with a broader global or regional following is not a guarantee of local sales. In 2019, Kim Kardashian partnered with Alibaba’s Tmall to promote her KKW Fragrance line during Single’s Day. Joining her on the broadcast was popular Chinese livestreamer Viya. At the time, Viya had almost 10 million fans on Weibo, whereas Kardashian had nearly 150 million fans on Instagram. Kardashian’s stream on Tmall logged 100,000 viewers while Viya drew an audience of 13 million.

Growth Factor #2 – Choosing the Right Platform

Though some of the social and media platforms which dominate the social influencer market in Southeast Asia might be familiar, like Instagram and YouTube, significant cultural differences between the region’s countries demand that marketers take a hyperlocal approach with their influencer marketing strategies.

Beauty brands like Shiseido and Bobbi Brown have used Lazada’s Lazlive e-commerce livestreaming capability to encourage shoppers in Thailand to buy skincare and cosmetics during the lockdown. Training is also given to offline salespersons so that they can use livestreaming to earn commission through online sales. Hosts and products on these broadcasts are tailored for the local market. In one livestream, Shiseido drew 90,000 viewers and sold 40 times GMW compared to a regular hour on Lazada.

Growth Factor #3 – The 3 C’s of Social Shopping

Livestreaming is an ideal platform for retail as it appeals to current concerns and preferences of shoppers. Brands that can deliver engaging programming while providing comfort, community and control, will win new audiences and drive visibility and conversion through the medium.

  • Comfort: People want to shop where they are and when they want. Enforced social distancing measures mean that livestreaming provides an outlet for shoppers to interact with a brand in the safety and security of their own home.
  • Community: Good livestreams can become a chance for brands and celebrities to have a meaningful conversation with their viewers. The ability to post comments and ask questions in real-time provides people with the feeling that their opinions are heard and any concerns are addressed.
  • Control: With livestreaming, viewers don’t feel the pressure of dealing with store associates. If they lose interest in the product at any time, they are free to log off and tune out.