Live Stream Retailing: The QVC for Gen Z

Live streaming is transforming the way consumers purchase online through integrating ecommerce and entertainment to boost engagement and sales. 

Live stream is transforming the way consumers interact with and purchase items online by integrating entertainment with ecommerce. Although still in its infancy in North America and Europe, live stream ecommerce has exploded in China and become one of the go-to options for Chinese consumers. 

Most live stream ecommerce events are similar to a QVC show, but online. Brands and/or retailers upload ‘live shows’ for online viewers with special promotions that last through the end of the video which creates a sense of urgency with viewers. Shoppers can interact with hosts in real-time, asking questions or commenting throughout the video.  

According to financial services firm Everbright, live stream ecommerce in China accounted for an estimated RMB 440 million – or $63 billion – in 2019 alone.  

 This interactivity has made live stream ecommerce incredibly effective in China. Many streams feature Key Opinion Leaders (equivalent to what we would call ‘social influencers’ in the West) who host these events and often promote or sell the products themselves. This two-way, real-time interaction between consumer and host generates buzz, but also builds trust between brand and consumer. 

Female influencer on the live streaming platform Mogujie

One of the most popular live steam platforms is Alibaba’s C2C ecommerce site Taobao. Taobao predicts that live streaming on its platform will generate over 500 billion sales transactions over the next three years, while Alibaba’s B2C arm Tmall expects over 500 million users to make purchases via live stream in 2020.  

During Alibaba’s Singles’ Day shopping festival, over 1,000 brands participated in live stream shopping events. Eighty-four of these including leaders like Apple, L’Oreal, and Uniqlo - made over 100 million yuan ($14 billion) in sales in just the first hour.  

Kim Kardashian and Viya Huang participating in a Tmall live stream shopping session

Leading up to Singles’ Day, Tmall hosted a live stream shopping session with Kim Kardashian West and Chinese KOL Viya Huang. The event attracted 13 million viewers and West’s stock of 15,000 KKW perfume bottles sold out within minutes.  

While we haven’t seen as much traction for live stream ecommerce here in the US, major retailers and social media platforms have been making tactical moves into this space there and in other markets. Last year, Amazon launched Amazon Live, featuring live streamed video shows from Amazon talent, and the Amazon Live Creator app where brands can live stream directly to and the Amazon mobile app. Facebook began testing a shopping mode for live streams in Thailand last year and Instagram is reportedly working on a standalone shopping app that builds upon IGTV. Social shopping apps like Dote, with features like 15-minute Shopping Parties, have recently begun to emerge, and established brands like Urban Outfitters have worked with Dote to host their own live streaming events.  

Live stream event hosted on H&M’s ecommerce site with female influencer

H&M hosted a live stream event on their own ecommerce site where its fashion editor and buyer discuss fashion trends and their favorite products of the season, while viewers can shop the products as they watch the videos. Although it hasn’t exploded like elsewhere as it has in China, it’s safe to say that live stream and other interactive ecommerce channels are finally taking hold of consumer attention. 

Live stream ecommerce allows brands and retailers to connect with consumers, building engagement and trust by creating a two-way conversation. Brands and retailers in the US should work with platforms currently developing live streaming capabilities to become first movers in the space.  

Key recommendations for live streaming  

  • INVEST IN TECHNOLOGY: Technology continues to disrupt the game of retail, so brands and retailers must have a solid infrastructure and technological foundation to run live stream events before considering the next steps around content or marketing. Live streaming technology and adoption in the West is still behind that of China’s, with most live stream and even social media sites in the US still redirecting shoppers to a separate checkout page to complete their purchases. Brands and retailers need to make sure that they are finding the right partners or hiring necessary in-house talent in order to execute a seamless and glitch-free live stream shopping experience.  
  • KEEP IT INTERACTIVE: A big appeal of live stream retailing is the ability for viewers to better engage with products in a digital medium as they look to emulate the touch & feel experience online, further breaking down the barrier between physical and digital. Brands and retailers opting for live stream must ensure that they are enabling a two-way conversation with viewers, allowing them to ask comments and questions, and responding to them with more information and education about the products. Companies should leverage live streaming to create an engaging product discovery experience for their customers.
  • COLLABORATE WITH INFLUENCERS: As with many social media marketing campaigns, live streaming events capture more shopper attention when brands and retailers partner with the right influence for their audience. China’s live stream shopping has been extremely successful with the use of KOLs, and companies in the US should apply this best practice to live streaming with the Western audience as well. With influencers gaining millions of views on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, which recently added shoppable elements to their TikTok platform, brands and retailers can surely leverage this traffic to increase brand visibility and awareness.  

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Mod Boon-Long
Article by:
Mod Boon-Long