E-commerce has been riding a wave of profound change for the last year and half or so.

The water’s been turbulent, and there have been frequent wipe-outs. It takes persistence to keep up with the changes, especially where consumer contact, relationship-building, brand stories, and changing shopper sensibilities are concerned.

You may have noticed that it never ends, and there are more – and more meaningful – changes to come.

One of the critical trends to hit e-commerce is the rise of retail live-streaming, a phenomenon some pundits now regard as the potential savior of online retail. Time will tell if that’s true, but one thing is certain.

Live-streaming is currently a means of achieving a quantum leap forward in attracting new consumers, engaging shoppers deeply and quickly, and creating conversions and sales at an explosive rate.

The New Video Marketing: Not Your Tacky TV Ads

Live-streaming, when done well, isn’t primarily about the creation of advertising.

It’s about creating relationships. That fact is what drives the success of content that goes viral on platforms like Tik Tok, Instagram, and Facebook. It’s success in relationship-building that ultimately drives conversions, and there’s plenty of evidence to validate the new focus on live-streaming as a big thing for brand-consumer relationships in 2021 and beyond.

The last year or so has provided justification for the view that the real aim of live-streamed retail video goes well beyond time-limited promotional pitches or the spreading of product information to consumers. It’s morphed successfully into a business tactic that can promote incredible growth and enable live sales through live shopping and interactions inside video streams.

Most of us are familiar with old-style infomercials – extended television ads that introduce products in the context of hyperbolic “carny” pitches targeting the lowest common denominators in audiences. These infomercials leave a great deal to be desired by today’s standards for approach and engagement, but they’ve been nonetheless effective for many years.

They typically focus on magical product suitability for purpose and supposed user-friendliness, rather than on brand stories, immersive experiences that seem real, or long-term engagement. They’re one-off conversion and transaction-oriented, and replete with fake smiles, faux excitement, and phony language that often seem directed at very superficial audience concerns.

And they always offer an allegedly great deal for the money: “But wait – there’s more! If you buy right now...”

There’s more, all right. The days of that style of video artifact are numbered. Consumers in 2021 are more engaged, interested in more honesty and more transparency in relationships with brands, and far less patient with marketing hype targeting the most superficial of concerns.

Live-streaming’s explosive growth reflects consumer values in the New Retail, including a focus on sustainability and retailer honesty.

Retail Live-Streaming and Live Shopping: What Are We Really Talking About?

Let us put it this way: US sales through live-stream shopping events in 2021 should be between $6 billion and $11 billion dollars.

Major retailers and noted brands are already dabbling in live-streaming and live shopping. It looks like that trend isn’t going to slow down, despite some naysayers in the crowd. There are critics who think the whole idea smacks of a cheesy online shopping channel on steroids, an exercise in technology-driven hype that offers additional bells and whistles but little of additional substance.

Respectfully, we disagree.

It’s the underlying rationales that have changed critically. Evolving consumer trends and expectations are forcing retailers to approach their engagement and marketing strategies from a completely altered perspective.

That perspective no longer rests exclusively, or even primarily, on a desire for immediate conversions.

Instead, it’s about those long-term relationships with consumers we mentioned.

Those retailers who opt for live-streaming and live shopping without altering the traditional “infomercial approach” will not achieve their objectives.

Those who focus on engagement with brand stories, transparent process, environmental concerns, and sustainability issues in retail transactions will, we think, leap-frog ahead of their competition.

Dramatically.

Done correctly, live-stream shopping events can garner purchases from 10 to 20 % of viewers. We’re betting the percentages will improve as e-commerce retailers become more focused on immersive shopping experience and direct consumer contact in their live-shopping offers.

Live-Stream Retail Takes the Stage

Retail brands have seen the writing (or live video) on the wall, and are increasingly embracing live-streaming and live-shopping.

Social media platforms have launched live-streaming and shopping mechanisms to enable brands and consumers to engage directly from within their main platforms. Facebook, with close to 3 billion users per month, offers Facebook Shops for the creation of customizable live storefronts, and real-time shopping through Facebook Live.

Back in May, Facebook launched a limited series of “Live Shopping Fridays” to enable brands to reach consumers with live-stream shopping opportunities for fashion, skincare and beauty products. We’re going to see much more of this.

Instagram and YouTube continue to work with live-streaming, with the former enabling purchases from Facebook.

LinkedIn Marketing Solutions continues to develop LinkedIn Live after its very successful beta. While it’s intended for enhancing professional engagement on the platform, we can’t help thinking that LinkedIn Live may become a key B2B and even B2C live-streaming resource over time.

The tip of a rapidly growing iceberg, we suspect.

In fact, in an April 28, 2021 post over on Retail Dive, Maria Monteros takes a look at some compelling information from Coresight Research.

The nitty-gritty:

  • Coresight’s US-based March 2021 survey reveals that more than 80% of US consumers are using social media, and among those users, 60% use social media platforms in their online shopping.
  • The company estimates (conservatively, we think) that the live-streaming market will be worth $6 billion in 2021, and up to $25 billion by 2023. The Chinese market, already heavily impacted by live-streaming, could reach $305 billion this year, according to KPMG research cited in the Coresight survey and elsewhere.
  • Live-streaming does, in fact, offer consumers richer, more immersive shopping experiences and is gaining popularity as a result.
  • Among the growing retail trends based on live-streaming, we’ll see direct live-shopping digital discussions between brands and consumers – a development that will resonate with the latter in terms of improved access, greater personalization, and significantly better customer shopping experiences.
  • The focus of retail should be on the building of long-term relationships with live-stream viewers and shoppers.

There’s no escaping it.

As of the middle of last year, a large majority of companies were intending to engage with consumers through marketing videos this year. They were mindful of the fact that an overwhelming majority of consumers have been watching more video in the pandemic’s wake. Current projections suggest that there’s been good follow-through from businesses investing live-streaming and live shopping.

In the US, major brands like Macy’s and Nordstrom are using live-streaming to enable consumers to view live videos while shopping in real time. They’re involving the brands they carry in planning for future live-shopping events that incorporate interactive experiences with brand experts and personal appearances by noteworthy affiliates.

So, Will Retail Live-Streaming Really Become the Future of E-Commerce?

Just over a year ago, a post over on T_HQ said it would.

That post referenced a Forrester forecast that US retail would drop over $320 billion in 2020, and that retail live-streaming would be the means by which e-commerce would turn things around.

In this regard, American e-commerce retailers have been paying attention to China, where live-streaming and live shopping are flourishing with ridiculous success. Senior Chinese corporate faces have been live-streaming and successfully using live shopping to sell millions of dollars’ worth of product in events lasting only a few hours.

When an important fashion event partners with Alibaba in a major video broadcast that lets consumers pre-order items right from the fashion runway, online retailers – everywhere – take notice.

But there are challenges.

E-commerce retailers of all sizes are resigning themselves to the fact that live-streaming and live shopping have too much revenue-generating potential to be ignored. As a result, they’re looking at what they’ll have to do in order to take full advantage.

The technological considerations, while important, are no longer primary obstacles to embracing new channels, especially with so much on offer from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms.

The real issues for online brands have more to do with what products to sell, how to integrate sales into their live-stream marketing, how to interweave live-streaming video into immersive brand storytelling and content strategy, and how to stay focused on relationship-building while generating sales.

That’s a lot to account for. However, e-commerce retail is already learning to adapt to changing consumer sensibilities, and is responding with strategies that engage, inform, and entertain around brand story and brand products.

For these purposes, the immediacy of real-time live-streaming is hard to beat as a cornerstone of evolving brand strategy and sales growth.

If Chinese e-commerce’s experience with live-streaming is a valid indicator, then we think the answer to the big question is...yes: live-streaming really can be the future of e-commerce.

We’ll have to wait and see where evolution takes it...

Considerations Before You Take the Leap

We’ve been sitting here and thinking about the best way to wrap up this post.

If you’re an e-commerce retailer thinking about taking the leap into live-streaming and live shopping, you’re looking at some obvious considerations you’ll need to address.

  • If you’re big enough to go it alone, have a chat with your IT staff about suitable infrastructure, processing power, connectivity issues, AI, and the other tools that will take your video from the level of tired infomercials to the latest live-streaming and live shopping wizardry.
  • If your business or brand isn’t large enough to handle the tech side in-house (and that includes a great many e-commerce retailers), look at upgrading your existing platform for live-streaming or take stock of the latest platform developments in your sector. You should be concerned about platform reach, tool-sets, the ability to present key products to your shoppers smoothly…
  • Consider the offers and items that will resonate most strongly with your shoppers, depending on your sector and segment. Don’t be shy about addressing both the easy targets, and those that will force you to be a little more creative.
  • Make a plan, Stan.

If your business is holding its own right now (August 2021), good for you. Your business is still going because you’ve spent some time on long-term content strategy and marketing tactics, so begin thinking about a live-streaming/live shopping strategy that’s also long-term. This area is a potential gold-mine and will likely be so indefinitely, so you need a workable strategy that can carry you into the future.

  • Think about the seamlessness, level of immersive experience, and personalization opportunities you’d like to offer your shoppers.

There’s more, of course, but you’ll find you can’t wait to figure it all out in advance. The marketplace moves ahead too quickly, and you can end up waiting forever to be “ready” to leap into live-streaming.

Get moving.

If you’d like to take a quick look at one possibility, we suggest you visit today’s “Insight Report” from Coresight Research. It offers a brief profile of Livescale, a platform intended to provide “...seamless live shopping experiences.” The Montreal-based platform offers seamless payments, brand-related customer experience control, a complete learning ecosystem for users, customer services teams, and more.

And Livescale is not the only game in town.

Parting Thoughts

Live-streaming is going to keep expanding, and platforms are going to offer increasingly rich possibilities for engagement, awesome CX, conversions and sales.

If we’re right about that, it’s going to become part of how you conduct the ordinary course of your e-commerce business, spanning social media channels and allowing you to solidify long-term and increasingly intimate relationships with your consumers.

Time to get on it.

“Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up...”