Livestreaming: It’s Big in China, Is the US Next?

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The future of livestreaming depends not just on who you are, but also where you are…and whether you understand exactly what livestreaming actually is.

Livestreaming is a term being thrown around the retail world with increased frequency these days — but describing it is not easy. Start with a TV shopping show like you might find on QVC or HSN. But put it on your mobile phone rather than your television. Then layer on social media functions, the ability to interact with what\’s on your screen in a way that\’s impossible on one-way electronics devices. Then add some Tik Tok razzle dazzle, a little Instagram influencer hype and a modicum of good old fashioned entertainment.

[callout]According to numbers from iiMedia Research, a Chinese-based media watcher, livestreaming was a $62 billion business in that country last year and the firm projects it will double to more than $128 billion in 2020.[/callout]

In other words, livestreaming is a whole new way for retailers and brands to connect with their customers, unlike anything else that exists in the marketplace right now. And while it\’s wildly popular in China — hence, where you\’re asking — it is on the brink of an explosion in the American marketplace, with players as large as Macy\’s and as small as the neighborhood boutique all moving into it.

$128 Billion in China

How wild is wild in China? According to numbers from iiMedia Research, a Chinese based media watcher, livestreaming was a $62 billion business in that country last year and the firm projects it will double to more than $128 billion in 2020. The market leader alone — Alibaba\’s Taobao Live platform — had a 719 percent increase in just one month, February, earlier this year when the pandemic was at its peak in China.

Another research company, Payoneer, says the global livestreaming market will hit about $184 billion by 2027, being somewhat more conservative. In the U.S., livestreaming efforts are significantly less although it\’s starting to catch on — and quickly. Traackr, an influencer marketing and management platform, said that livestreaming skyrocketed 390 percent this past May from the month before when this country was in the deep grip of the pandemic.

The appeal of livestreaming is obvious and especially more so during the pandemic era when so many stores were shut and shoppers have been hesitant to return to in-person shopping. With interactive shopping shows — usually for apparel and accessories — on their phones, consumers can see live fashion shows, ask questions via messaging, talk to celebrities and designers, make requests for specific views of the clothing and then, if everything checks out, make a purchase.

Like conventional e-commerce, they can do it from anywhere without leaving their homes but unlike traditional online retail, it is a live experience with all that it entails. And because it is live and at a specific time for a specific period, it has a sense of urgency and immediacy that no static effort can ever hope to duplicate.

\”Livestreaming allows consumers and the retailer to communicate back-and-forth in real time with questions and comments,\” said Daniel Mayer, co-founder and CEO of BeLive, a live broadcasting company. \”This dynamic gives the communication a more natural, authentic feel and amplifies the retailer/customer connection. Such authenticity holds great power.\”

Macy\’s Swimming in the Livestream

Macy\’s is one of the large U.S. retailers that is moving into livestreaming, doing it as a component of its Style Crew program which creates live videos hosted by employees, influencers and what the store calls \”regular customers,\” all of whom it refers to as \”ambassadors.\”

\”We are thrilled to expand Macy\’s Style Crew to the broader fashion and beauty community,\” Marc Mastronardi, chief stores officer at Macy\’s, said in a statement, according to Retail Wire. \”Expanding our marquee e-commerce program will enable passionate content creators to grow their personal brands while providing Macy\’s shoppers with a highly engaging online experience.\”

Livestreaming in the U.S. is still most popular in the gaming sector where Amazon\’s Twitch is the dominant platform but using the technology for e-commerce is starting to catch on. Other livestreaming services such as Popshop Live, DroppTV and the aforementioned BeLive, some coming out of China, are bringing their platforms to the American market, often working with independent apparel boutiques, their stores closed or severely impacted by the pandemic, to move to this new format.

Another livestreamer is ShopShops, which focuses on taking U.S. based physical retailers and putting them in front of shoppers around the world, primarily in China. One report in the press said retailers could expect to do $5,000 an hour selling on ShopShops. The company has now said it will step up its efforts in the American market this year with more livestreaming events directed at U.S. shoppers.

BeLive\’s Mayer recently told Sourcing Journal that the initial success stories coming out of livestreaming have been more than a little impressive. \”We\’ve had user growth of seven times using the live shopping feature since the start of COVID,\” he said.

\”Right now, for the retailers, what they\’re actually looking to have when turning to us isn\’t just engagement, it\’s increased revenues. To be able to do that in hard times, you need to be able to use unique solutions that you weren\’t using previously.\”

Streaming Savior?

Is Livestreaming the savior of 21st century retail? Probably not onto itself but as a medium that combines two-way, digital commerce with social media elements it has enormous potential to supplement existing selling methods. The Chinese marketplace has proven to be a good indicator of what\’s to come in the Western World and that could be the case with livestreaming.

Certainly American retailing has been up the creek and could use a new paddle. Livestreaming could be it.

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