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QVC managed to hook the baby boom generation 35 years ago to buy things on TV. It became the birth of “retailtainment” and proved to be highly addicting. Now, three and a half decades later, millennial’s and Gen Z are going down a digital rabbit hole with livestream shopping; some are calling it Next Gen Commerce.

While livestreaming may at first appear to be today’s version of “shoptainment,” its real and enduring value will be in closing the gap between online and offline selling. Livestream hosts can build deeper customer connections as well as answer key product questions in real time.

China’s Alibaba pioneered livestream selling as a marketing tool five years ago, and its growth has been ginormous, even by Alibaba standards. Livestream selling accounted for 10 percent of the $1.5 trillion spent on Chinese ecommerce in 2020; a whopping $149 billion. It is estimated that 40 percent of all Chinese internet users have watched ecommerce livestreams. Its popularity has spawned an estimated 28,000 livestream agencies, several of which are contemplating going public. Many Chinese teens and twentysomethings have become livestreaming influencers and internet sensations. Two major retail influencers, Viya and Austin Li Jiaqi, were responsible for $8.2 billion in sales last year alone.

Livestream Selling and Influencer Marketing

Livestream shopping got its start as a byproduct of influencer marketing and the power of peer-to-peer selling. But its future, at least in the U.S., is likely to take a vastly different trajectory. This is evidenced by the newest players who are harnessing existing and hybrid technologies to enable a more personalized, real-time customer engagement in the digital sphere.

Stacy DeBroff, CEO Influence Central, shares some insights, “As livestreaming moves more mainstream in the U.S., countless livestream apps have emerged to offer variations on how content gets shared as well as the ability to move from a crowd broadcast to more individualized online assistance.”

These moves resonate strongly with Gens Y, Z and Alpha. Livestream apps solve challenges that currently face retailers who are attempting to eliminate friction within the selling process. Most importantly, apps address the challenges inherent in an omnichannel world and bring us closer to a type of “digital agnostic nirvana” that most retailers and brands aspire to.

My fellow TRR writer, Jasmine Glasheen recently reported, “Generation Alpha wants real time in app personalization from online retailers on social media.” She went on to state, “Retailers that drag their feet on providing this run the risk of failing to connect with (these highly) influential demographics.”

Different Approaches to Livestream Selling

While livestreaming may at first appear to be today’s version of “shoptainment,” its real and enduring value will be in closing the gap between online and offline selling. Livestream hosts can build deeper customer connections as well as answer key product questions in real time.

There is a myriad of social commerce and digital tech players who are inserting livestream selling into the path-to-purchase with stunning results. Their positioning and market focus run the gamut from peer-to-peer marketplaces like Popshop Live and Depop, to software-as-as-service (SaaS) creators like Bambuser, and Eyezon. These brands span the customer experience from one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many. Moreover, livestream introduces a new model of sustainable retention, building long-term customer loyalty in ecommerce.

Interesting Items Sold by Interesting People

Both Depop and Popshop were built around the flourishing peer-to-peer selling ecosystem, utilizing a mix of influential people and selling interesting items, with socialization thrown in for good measure.

I first wrote about peer-to-peer Depop in my 10-year retail trend prognostication for IBM’s Next Brick in 2020. Depop now has over thirty million users, about 90 percent of which are under 26 years old. Many of these young entrepreneurs go beyond their closets as a source for inventory and make frequent visits to thrift with a buy-and-flip mindset. Depop was recently purchased by Etsy for $1.625 billion, a price predicated largely on future, rather than current value.

While Depop focuses on recycled and upcycled product, Popshop Live leverages Gen Zs’ and millennials’ desire to shop both the smaller, edgy brands as well as the nationals. They include brands like 3D Retro, JapanLA, Earthing.VIP, Kettle & Fire and Mall of America.

Jill Renslow, EVP of business development and marketing at Mall of America says, “Popshop Live was a valuable alternative shopping platform as traditional in-person retail halted during the pandemic,” adding “even as the world continues to open up and we welcome shoppers back to Mall of America, we plan to continue livestream shopping to reach new customers in a unique way.”

One-to-Many

Bambuser was founded in Stockholm in 2007 and launched Live Video Shopping in 2019. They provide businesses and brands with a seamless way to create, manage and publish video content, allowing them to interact with their audience in real-time. The format can engage store staff, personnel, experts and influencers, and stream directly to their audiences. They are also able to drive conversions using discounts, promo codes, and offers.

A year ago, Klarna, the Stockholm, Sweden based buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) plan, joint ventured with Bambuser to launch Livestyle, a live video shopping feature housed within the Klarna app. This enabled the BNPL provider with 18 percent share of the U.S. market (behind Affirm and Afterpay) to influence the entire shopping experience from its site.

Getting Phygital

The introduction of Bambuser’s Phygital Solutions, which debuted this year, empowers the retailer’s ability to launch either temporary, pop-up, or permanent in-store or shopping center installations. The solutions enable stores to become more experiential, serving double duty as a studio or showroom. Customers gain real-time access to brand representatives, yielding better context and personalization of the product and shopping experience, something the internet lacks.

The major advantage over the plethora of livestream selling that is occurring on third-party marketplaces is that the activity happens in their stores and on their websites. This differentiates them from Facebook live, Amazon Live, TikTok, and many other social commerce sites. This touchpoint control is essential to managing the brand and owning the customer experience. Additionally, the data remains where it belongs, to be both analyzed in real-time as well as utilized later.

Bambuser claims that customers spend on average of 13 minutes per session, or three times the average ecommerce “dwell time.” Additionally, they are averaging a 31 percent add-to-cart, and 24 percent chat engagement.

Eyezon the Prize

Influence Central’s Stacy DeBroff notesto build longer-lasting influencer relationships, brands are returning to the brand ambassador model with microinfluencers.” This harkens back to the “clienteling model” of nearly a century ago. This idea of one-on-one “brand ambassador” consultation is at the heart of the Singapore-based Eyezon. Eyezon launched five years ago, but in 2019 became entirely focused on social commerce.

I had a lengthy video interview recently with Eyezon’s co-founder and CEO Dragorad Knezi about their young but rapidly growing company. Drago is a marketing communications expert with 15 years of experience as a strategic planning director and CSO in one of the most prominent international advertising networks in Russia. He has also been an advisor and mentor to several AdTech and MediaTech accelerator programs in Eastern Europe and the head of the corporate incubator program at Publicis Communication Russia, a branch of the second largest international advertising group, worldwide.

Live, Personal, and On Demand

Drago described his company’s vision of how retail will evolve over the next decade shifting from video utilization to broadcasting to one-to-one or one-to-few consumers. This is driven by “on-demand connectivity” becoming a more dominant factor in social commerce. It will lead to a more contextual and more fluid interaction between the brands and the consumer, which drives loyalty and lifetime customer value. Makes sense to me.

Drago went on to explain that the best stakeholders for the “live, personal, on-demand model” come from venders, manufacturers and brands experiencing their transactions moving from offline to online and needing to connect with their customers in a more natural way.

Eyezon, like many tech companies, experienced “extremes compression” of R&D (from five years down to several months) triggered by the pandemic. Once lockdown happened in 2020, they were quickly able to deploy everywhere. Their pilot launched in Russia, signing with 30 retailers and international brands. They included apparel companies like Adidas and Body Shop to the DIY groups and the auto industry, which now includes VW and BMW. Since the launch, Drago claims they have had zero client churn. The company is currently in Europe, the UK and Latin America and has plans to expand into the U.S. in the second half of 2022.

Direct Connection

Eyezon employs a “button” embedded on a brand’s website, and sales team receives notifications on their smartphone app. Employees can livestream on demand or set a specific time to answer questions. Customers can join a stream and ask questions about a specific product and watch the stream later.

Drago’s program starts with configuring “their widget” and integrating it onto the brand’s or retailer’s website. Then they connect the sales team via a mobile app which allows employees the ability to go “active.” Employees can respond right away or check the website for details on the product, and engagements can be saved to the “chat session.” Employees can earn points for their livestreaming which can be converted to bonuses. The turnkey solution has a license fee, but there is no charge per use or user, and can be utilized on as many devices as the brand requires.

Channel Agnosticism

Drago believes personalized livestream is the last step in achieving the nirvana of channel agnosticism, where the entire customer experience truly becomes seamless. With constant transitioning of physical sales to online, livestream creates a higher calling for the sales assistant, turned brand ambassador. It gives sales staff opportunities to become nano influencers, increasing earnings, as well as creating stronger connections to their customers. In addition to increasing conversion rates, it also cuts the rate of expensive product returns.

The likely extension of one-to-one livestream selling may be to have showroom sets built in large, lower rent warehouses. Dozens of brand ambassadors can meet in the space to council customers, unencumbered by retail traffic. These same environments can become livestream studios and showcases for product introductions, live runway events and trunk shows. This all seems to fit beautifully into “retailing’s new world order” of unified commerce.