E-commerce doesn’t like to stand still for too long. It’s an industry based on disruption, and even though it’s become the norm, you can bet on consistently new and better ways of doing business online. Using live streaming to drive online sales could be one such way, especially at a time when both live streaming and e-commerce are expanding.
However, the wave of truly integrated streaming and shopping has yet to reach Europe, the U.S., or Australia. We’ve still not seen the same type of “live commerce” that is developing in China. Still, there are great ways to use live streaming in e-commerce right now.
What makes live streaming and e-commerce such a good fit?
E-commerce has been recording one good year after another. In the United States, for example, online retail has been exhibiting steady growth, surpassing the $500 billion watermark in 2018. The share of online sales within total sales has been increasing as well, reaching a 14.3% record last year.
You could attribute the reasons behind such success to a complex network of factors that include:
- People are spending a lot of time online. An average internet user will spend 6 hours and 42 minutes online per day this year — almost a third of each day.
- Customers care about shopping easily. People want to navigate stores more easily, to have access to knowledgeable salespeople, and to pay quickly and easily.
- Personalization is becoming easier. 61% of American consumers would trade their data for more personalization in brand communications.
Live streaming fits perfectly into every factor on the list, which makes it something every business should be doing. Let’s go through it point by point:
- At least a part of what people are doing online is watching videos. If they’re adult Americans, they’ll spend on average 25 minutes per day watching videos on mobile devices or computers.
- Live streaming can make some aspects of shopping easier. At the very least, live streaming can provide access to knowledgeable sales people.
- Live streaming is more than just personalized — it’s personal. Live streams can easily become conversations where the viewers’ opinions are heard and valued.
Brands have been using live streaming for a while. Some, such as Kohl’s, were early adopters with great ideas that were more centered on branding. Others, like the Home Depot, partnered with celebrities to create special sponsored live stream events more aimed at sales.
Either way, the benefits of live streaming as a format are evident. The compatibility of live streaming and e-commerce has also been evident for a while, even though the technology that would enable you to make the most out of your live stream hasn’t been there. Now, however, things are changing on that front, and China is leading the way.
What’s going on in China?
The world’s most populous country is set to surpass the United States in value of total retail sales this year. That’s not a big surprise, given the growth of the middle class in the country and the sheer number of people who live there.
What is surprising, however, is the fact that more than a third of sales in China happen online, which is the biggest share we’ve seen. China also earns around 55% of all online retail sales in the world. On top of it all, China also has the world’s biggest live streaming market, valued at $4.4 billion, and with more than 450 million viewers. Put the two together, and you get live commerce.
What is live commerce?
The full integration of live streaming and e-commerce would enable a seamless shopping experience while watching a live stream. Live streaming should be a part of the consumer journey, and it should be given the option to convert then and there — without the need to move on to another website.
That’s how they’re shopping in China. It’s called live commerce, and it’s happening on streaming platforms that are either owned by or have deals with retailers. Probably the biggest one is Alibaba’s Taobao Live, but Tencent’s WeChat is aiming to enter the game, too. Users can shop with one click while watching the live stream.
There are several reasons this type of e-commerce developed in China first:
- People use live streaming to learn about products. Much like people turn to social networks for social proof and word of mouth in the U.S., they turn to live streams in China.
- China has a large influencer industry. They are called “key opinion leaders” in China, and they are mostly live streaming content creators.
- Content creators are much more diverse. With such a large audience, content creators can afford to take risks with their content and open themselves to diverse sales opportunities.
Some of these conditions might be hard to replicate in the U.S. or European countries, but we are seeing live commerce spreading. In South Korea, for example, there are at least two companies — LF Corp and TMON — combining live streaming and e-commerce in a live commerce way. Audiences in other countries are willing to accept this kind of shopping.
How close are we to seeing live commerce in the U.S. and Europe?
In the U.S. and other countries, the sales channels that resemble live commerce the most are still shopping channels. The closest any platform has come so far in providing live commerce is Amazon Live, Amazon’s feature that lets registered sellers live stream. It’s a far cry from China’s opinion leaders as far as content goes, but it’s a start.
Influencers and content creators have different options available, though. YouTube, for example, allows content creators who create merch with Teespring to enable the merch shelf. There are options to post links to their stores in merch cards and end screens. It’s still not close to live commerce, though.
On Twitch, streamers can use extensions to add merch stores to their channels. Like with YouTube, it’s a good way to help content creators monetize their content. But it’s still very different than what streamers are doing in China and South Korea, where live streaming has a huge impact on e-commerce. Unfortunately, we’re just not that close to seeing live commerce in the U.S. or Europe.
How to use live streaming for e-commerce
While we’re waiting for the major players to catch up with Chinese live commerce platforms, there are still great ways you can leverage live streaming to achieve your business goals. The marketing software company HubSpot, for example, sees a place for live streaming in every step of its popular “attract-convert-close-delight” model.
Here’s how you might use it:
- Attract with a view behind the scenes. Behind-the-scenes live video is great for humanizing your business, but it also has an air of exclusivity, making it very engaging.
- Convert with information and interaction. Interviews and Q&As are great live content for conversion because they engage, inform, and promote communication.
- Close with a bang! Product launches are great events to stream if you want to boost sales. You can stream special programming in support of your flash sales, too.
- Delight with extra valuable content. Provide that little extra to your customers with live-streamed training sessions or content centered around the community.
This is as far as you can take live streaming for e-commerce purposes today. But don’t worry — even though they’re not fully integrated, live streams can still provide lots of benefits for your e-commerce business. You just need to use the right kind of content for the right kind of stage.
How can multistreaming help?
Another factor in which the model we have is different from the Chinese live commerce model is multistreaming. Because live streaming and e-commerce platforms are separated, you can use any live streaming platform you want. Or, you can stream to several at once.
This might sound like an advanced live streaming technique, but it’s not. Tools such as Restream make it incredibly easy to go from live streaming on one platform to live streaming on many. The benefits are numerous, and they include:
- A bigger reach. Streaming on multiple platforms significantly increases your audience pool.
- Time savings. Instead of creating a live stream for each platform, do one stream for all platforms.
- Easy to start. You won’t need any additional equipment to go from live streaming to multistreaming.
You get all of this simply by using a cloud platform to stream simultaneously to multiple websites. The types of content you would stream remain the same, as do the goals you can achieve with them. The only thing that changes is that you’ll probably have a bigger audience.
Let’s wrap it up!
The worlds of e-commerce and live streaming are incredibly dynamic, especially where they overlap. The way e-commerce is developing in China and how integrated live commerce is, as opposed to the live streaming or e-commerce platforms we see elsewhere, is all very exciting to behold. It seems like the rest of the world has a lot to learn.
But the fact that you can’t really do live commerce as they do it in China doesn’t mean that live streaming doesn’t have an application in your e-commerce strategy. Quite the contrary — live content is very much in-demand, and you have plenty of ways to use it to address consumers on their journey towards becoming customers. Live streaming is still great for e-commerce, even if the two are not completely integrated. If you use Restream to multistream your live content, it becomes even more useful and cost-effective. So, don’t wait too long before you give it a go.