3 Ways Livestreaming is Shaking Up the Retail Marketing Playbook

As retailers shift more of their attention and dollars to digital content and community-building activities, livestreaming has moved into the spotlight. Its rampant rise in China is encouraging U.S. and global brands to consider its role in their marketing playbooks. However, lack of clarity around what livestreaming truly is, and how it is best applied in a broader marketing strategy, is making it difficult for companies to realize its true potential.

Cutting-edge brands and retailers are embracing the authentic, real-time nature of livestreaming to:

  • Amplify and capitalize on influencer partnerships;
  • Position business leaders and associates as trusted experts; and
  • Replicate the magic of in-person fashion shows and product drops.

In 2020 alone, livestreaming generated $135 billion in Chinese ecommerce sales, but livestreaming in the U.S. accounts for a “tiny sliver” of global livestreaming sales, according to Coresight Research, totaling less than $1 billion. Through a survey of 475 consumers, Influence Central also found that only 19% of U.S. consumers have tuned into a livestreaming event. But a report from Payoneer shows that demand for livestreaming has increased dramatically during the first half of 2020, encouraging brands across apparel, cosmetics and even auto to test the model.

“Livestreaming, also called Shop Streaming, enables retailers to leverage consumer’s higher propensity to make a purchase when tuning in, in real time,” said Stacy DeBroff, CEO of Influence Central, an influencer marketing and strategy firm. “The biggest draw for consumers comes from livestreaming’s unique mix of entertainment, behind-the-scenes product information, shared commenting with others, and simple click-to-buy options.”

Many experts point to true livestreaming as a digital adaptation of the “home shopping” models pioneered by QVC and HSN. Engagement and impact are amplified when companies embrace the real-time nature of their chosen livestream platform — whether it be Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, or even Amazon Live and Etsy — to spark conversation and inspire action.

While some new campaigns demonstrate the different ways brands and retailers can use livestreaming to their advantage, Amanda Cosco, startup marketing advisor, fashion futurist and Founder of Electric Runway, believes some use cases are actually creating confusion within the market.

“When people talk about going ‘live,’ they have very different definitions of what that means,” Cosco said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It could berunway shows, taking people backstage or behind the scenes of a show, or showing how to style or wear specific products.” But, she argued, Dior creating a fashion film or Apple recording a product release and launching them “live” is not true livestreaming; it’s pre-recorded and uploaded, which takes away some of the authenticity and community-driven value of a true livestream experience.

“When you say livestreaming in China, it’s influencers literally going live to curate looks and show how they style things, which can be very powerful,” Cosco added. “Companies in the U.S. haven’t adopted it to its full potential, but there’s a lot of experimentation happening in the space right now.”

Following are three livestreaming use case categories that retailers and brands are trying on for size:


1. Influencer livestreams drive organic brand awareness and product conversions.

Brands and retailers can tap the active communities of influencer partners by encouraging them to go “live.” These livestreams can be for a specific campaign period to celebrate a new product launch, or be an integral part of a brand’s digital marketing strategy.

Both globally known and micro-influencers have made product unboxings, tutorials and “ask me anything” sessions a core part of their content plans. These sessions encourage interaction and dialogue between the influencers and their unique communities, which allows brands to join the conversation in an organic way that ultimately drives customer acquisition.
“Influencers excel at creating engaging, powerful content that resonates with their audience, and leverages that audience’s trust in their curation of recommendations,” DeBroff explained. “Their passion can drive both brand interest and ecommerce conversions, thus unlocking their audience to you.”

However, DeBroff noted that brands and retailers should avoid “content-scription,” which is when brands craft the entire talk track for an influencer and try to control the dialogue. “Brands can best maintain control by setting brand guidelines as part of the influencer’s engagement contract — what’s off limits to talk about and key messaging points they want to hit — but ultimately, allow each influencer their own unique voice and vantage point, as the influencers best know what will spark engagement and create sales conversion from their audience.”

2. Associate-driven livestreams position employees as product experts and brand curators.

At the peak of COVID-19, non-essential retailers had to actively monitor and respond to local guidelines and mandatory store closures. For these national and even global brands, livestreaming helped maintain intimate relationships that many store employees had with their customers.

Livestreaming also helped them create a “face” or physical representation of the brand and its unique aesthetic. For example, companies like lululemon and Glossier broadcast livestreams featuring associates and experts from their respective industries to host candid conversations, workouts and product walk-throughs. These activities have continued due to their success.

For small businesses, livestreaming allowed them to keep associates employed and simultaneously build their digital presence — in many cases, from the ground up. CommentSold has helped many small- and medium-sized businesses, typically fashion boutiques, make livestreaming a core revenue driver and integral part of their digital marketing strategies. According to Brandon Kruse, the company’s founder, employees and boutique owners are the most known faces of the business, which makes them extremely powerful livestream hosts.

“What’s interesting is the difference between a brand doing a livestream event versus our clients, who are going live once or twice a day and interacting with the same relatively small audience,” Kruse said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “They become part of the consumers’ lives and then shopping is almost secondary.”

CommentSold’s largest retail customers do up to 90% of their sales through livestreaming and via their branded mobile apps, Kruse explained. “With COVID-19, we saw hundreds of retailers either permanently or temporarily close their stores and try this for the first time. Now, many of them are bigger than they were [pre-pandemic].”

He believes the main reason for this growth is the ability to scale curation and interaction through channels like Instagram Live, helping retailers reach consumers in a one-to-many fashion that still feels very personal. Traditional ecommerce site experiences fail to replicate the highly personalized nature of the store experience, unless retailers invest in the appropriate technology — something smaller retailers can’t always do.

Freckled Poppy, a CommentSold customer, embraced livestreaming as a way to connect more deeply with customers beyond the store, according to Matty and Alex Laigle, who own the boutique. “We knew if we could go live, our consumers could really get to know us, and us them, in a more real-time format,” Matty Laigle said. “The value of livestreaming has just exponentially increased since COVID hit. We all naturally crave connection, which has been hard to get this past year. We decided to start going live every day [when lockdowns started] as an escape from reality.”

Now, Freckled Poppy uses livestreams to share stories, provide support and show their real-life experiences. Followers especially love to get a behind-the-scenes look at how they keep the business running. And no matter what, the Laigles show up, proving the value of an authentic, and consistent, strategy. “We bring our products with us on vacation and sometimes, we’ll go live just to chat in the car or while baking,” Alex Laigle added. “We believe this shows our customers that we’re here for more than just selling — we’re here for the community.”

3. Livestream events create intimate shopping moments at scale.

Over the past year, many luxury and fashion brands reinvented their marketing playbooks to include livestreams. These live events replaced the treasured fashion shows that were put on hold due to the pandemic. Tech companies including Alibaba, TikTok and Klarna have risen to the occasion to create these entertaining and immersive events that stay true to the heart of what livestreaming is all about.

Klarna and Cosmopolitan Magazine recently held its second annual “Hauliday by Cosmo x Klarna,” a virtual shopping event designed specifically for Gen Z and millennial consumers. The 48-hour event introduced a new livestream partnership with ShopShops for audiences to discover items and shop in new ways. The livestream was hosted by TV host, style expert and blogger Jackie Miranne.

“Because livestream shopping is really new, we have to educate our reader on what it is, and how they can join us,” said Nancy Berger, SVP/Publishing Director and Chief Revenue Officer for Cosmopolitan. “We are using our enormous scale across all of our platforms to do so. To make our livestream really successful, our editors curated two ‘shows’ — the Self Care edit and the I’m Actually Trying edit — to frame the products in a way that would really make sense to the viewer. It’s the curation of the products that helps create a story and ultimately drives the sales.

This combination of curated content, inspirational fashion tips, exclusive sales and discounts and real-time shopping entertainment allowed the companies to “offer a platform for brands to engage with audiences in a more meaningful and creative way and reach even wider audiences to drive more revenue,” said David Sandström, Chief Marketing Officer at Klarna.

Although this approach allows companies to create authentic content at scale, Cosco noted that the most important distinction is that these experiences are actually live, not edited or recorded. “We see some of these virtual runway shows that are released ‘live’ but are actually very staged,” she noted.

Cosco pointed to Rebecca Minkoff as a fashion brand that livestreamed its New York Fashion Week show through OnlyFans, focusing primarily on giving a behind-the-scenes look at the event coming together. “As a namesake designer, there’s endless opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with your target customer,” Cosco said. “It’s more to [Rebecca’s] advantage because she’s the face of the brand.”

Regardless of how brands and retailers plan to approach the livestreaming trend, they’ll have to take a focused and strategic approach, Cosco advised. “Your live strategy and video strategy are part of your overarching marketing strategy,” she explained. “If you’re just turning on the camera and going live, you’re not going to have much success. You have to develop an aesthetic and be thoughtful about how you execute.”

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