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Lo-res_119759522-SIn ongoing attempts to be present in any channel that shoppers might use, retailers are embracing the potential of livestreams and their ability to provide a sort of in-person vibe that helps consumers engage with brands. These channel shifts and efforts also reflect the growing sales potential offered by influencers, whose live broadcasts already attract hundreds or thousands of viewers. Finally, the increasing uses of livestreaming retail reflect the expansion plans of various tech and social media firms to be all things to all users.

On Amazon Live for example, individual influencers constantly post videos that review and introduce various products that viewers can purchase with a click. Multiple streams run simultaneously, so visitors can choose whether they want to learn about a single brand of hot sauce from someone sitting in his car, waiting in line to get a vaccine outside Dodger Stadium, or if they prefer to encounter a wide range of products, presented in a professional, journalistic-like style, by “The Deal Guy.”

These influencers and salespeople generally earn some varying percentage of the price for any products sold through the link on their livestreams. For example, the Deal Guy earns a higher percentage for luxury products than for grocery items. Influencers who attract more views and clicks earn priority placements in video menus, as well as quicker technical support if something goes wrong with their feed.

But whereas Amazon Live allows a few dozen livestreams at the same time, services in China host hundreds of them. China is a big market for livestreaming, such that it accounts for about $63 billion in sales, equivalent to 9 percent of the country’s online market. Many retailers host their own shows. A Chinese college even has added an ecommerce livestreaming degree to its curriculum.

Taking lessons from China’s far more advanced livestreaming examples, one consultant suggests that U.S. retailers cannot simply assume that adding videos to ecommerce sites will appeal to fans of livestreaming. Rather, the channel requires novel, appealing, engaging content. To provide it, retailers might consider limited-time offers, as well as exclusive products that people cannot find elsewhere.

Retailers also might take lessons from an older technology: home shopping channels. In these environments, popular and appealing hosts (similar to influencers) introduced a range of products to shoppers through their televisions (parallel to digital screens), often in virtually real time. Just as today’s users can comment during livestreams, shoppers could call in to chat with a host, establishing a strong connection and sense of engagement. As may come as no surprise, the parent company that owns famous home shopping services such as HSN and QVC already hosts livestreaming sessions on Roku, YouTube TV, and Facebook Live.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do retailers need to do to leverage livestreaming options?
  2. Which kinds of influencers might be the best options to hire to conduct livestreaming sessions?

Source: Jackie Snow, “Livestreaming, Still Niche, Grows as a Tool for Retailers,” The New York Times, March 14, 2021