By: Michael McQueen
Years ago, I released a book named Memento that took me way out of my comfort zone.
Unlike my previous nonfiction business books, Memento was for a completely new market and required an entirely different approach. It was a giftbook journal featuring a series of questions designed to prompt parents to write down their life stories as a keepsake for their children. Ten months after signing a big publishing deal with Chronicle Books in San Francisco, my family and I packed up and headed to the U.S. for a PR tour leading up to the book’s release.
While the media flurry took the predictable form of radio and print interviews, one appearance that popped into my PR calendar intrigued me. It was to record an infomercial on the Home Shopping Network. When the day of filming arrived, I caught a plane to Fort Lauderdale in Florida. At the airport, I was met by a driver who whisked me straight to the studios for hair and makeup. Little did I know how fascinating the experience would be.
Respect for Infomercials
To be honest, I have never paid much attention to infomercials and have always found them to be a bit ludicrous. I could never take too seriously the toned and tanned models promising that you too could look like them if you just purchased the Ab Roller 4000 for five easy instalments of $29.95 + postage. I had no doubt the infomercial strategy worked, but it always just seemed like such an odd and unsophisticated way to sell products.
And yet as I found myself on set watching the hosts craft the pitch for my book and record and then re-record the call to action with the in-ear coaching of the producer, I gained a newfound appreciation for the world of infomercials. And when the phone lines opened, the sales flurry was unbelievable.
While the home shopping TV model may be perceived as a bit naff for those who have grown accustomed to the slick advertising and subtle marketing of new media, the trend of live selling is far from dead, and is ironically being revived on some of the most tech-powered and youth-focused platforms.
Livestream shopping comes with the steadily increasing appeal of social commerce within younger markets. With almost a third of Gen Zs actively using platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to seek inspiration for online purchases, social commerce is a field ripe with opportunity.
Sometimes referred to as ‘Shoppertainment’, the move towards livestream eCommerce is quickly gaining traction. Amazon has been experimenting with livestream shopping for some time now and holds several patents in the space.
In August 2020, TikTok debuted its first livestream shopping collaboration with a platform aimed at Gen Z consumers called Ntwrk. Since then, the company has rolled out a suite of livestream shopping tools, such as its 2021 moves enabling in-app livestream shopping and product catalogue displays.
The consumer appetite to buy products via livestreams is steadily growing too. According to an April 2021 survey by The Harris Poll, 38% of US adults said they had watched a livestream of someone talking about a product that they might want to buy.
Recognising the opportunity this represents, YouTube launched a series of livestreamed shopping videos in November 2021 called Holiday Stream and Shop. The weeklong event featured internet celebrities such as MrBeast and Patrick Starrr – both of whom are wildly popular with Gen Z. This initiative was designed to get Western consumers more accustomed to the idea of purchasing via shoppable videos and by all reports it was a great success.
Image-based social media giant Pinterest has also looked to ramp up its livestream capabilities with the launch of a shoppable live series called Pinterest TV in late 2021. Each episode of Pinterest TV resembles a QVC-style shopping show where viewers can purchase exclusive products from brands such as Patagonia, Crown Affair and Allbirds using special discounts.
Beyond the established platforms, newer companies have launched off the back of the trend. In August 2020, the world’s first shoppable streaming video platform named DroppTV was launched with the aim of enabling artists to create virtual pop-up shops in their music videos and sell directly to fans.
China Leading the Way
The livestream shopping trend has gained particular traction in China. Described as a cross between TikTok and QVC, the livestream commerce market in China grew from $66B in 2019 to $170B in 2020 and over 560 million people are now regularly tuning in to watch a growing army of influencers showcase new products and offer exclusive discounts. With both Amazon and Walmart testing similar streaming retail services, this is set to be a significant trend in the coming years.
According to estimates by HSBC and Qianhai Securities, livestream eCommerce will make up 20% of China’s total eCommerce sales by 2023 – up from 10% in 2020. Much of this growth will be driven by the proliferation of new players in the space. Chinese live video platforms such as Kuaishou and Bytedance are quickly adding commerce features, while eCommerce leaders such as Alibaba and JD.com have both ramped up their livestreaming efforts in recent years.
As an indication of just how powerful the livestream eCommerce channel can be, a Chinese cosmetics influencer known as the “lipstick brother” sold a staggering $1.9 billion worth of merchandise during a single 12-hour livestream in October 2021.
But Is It A Fad?
Understandably, the isolation and lockdowns of the pandemic were monumental in boosting livestream shopping forward. It must be noted, however, that as restrictions have disappeared, much of the incentive for this form of commerce may have declined. With this in mind, some voices are now suggesting the phenomenon is a fad that won’t stick, pointing to the fact that the stats are comparatively less impressive than other profits and the raging success in China cannot be replicated in the west given our different commercial and technological structures.
With its blend of media, influencers, entertainment and commerce, livestream shopping is an ironically modern iteration of the daytime home shopping and infomercials we grew up watching. Whether it is a passing fad, albeit substantial, or a trend that’s here to stay remains to be seen.
 Sineau, T. 2021, ‘Live$tream that,’ CB Insights, 25 February.
 Walk-Morris, T. 2021, ‘TikTok partners with Square, expanding its social commerce capabilities,’ Retail Dive, 29 September.
 Enberg, J. 2021, ‘How important will livestreaming be for social commerce in 2021?’ eMarketer, 1 July.
 Phan, T. 2021, ‘YouTube is going all-in on livestream ecommerce,’ The Hustle, 16 November.
 Roth, E. 2021, ‘Pinterest hops on to the livestream shopping trend with Pinterest TV,’ The Verge, 1 November.
 Lane K. 2020, ‘World’s first shoppable streaming platform’, Springwise, 24 September.
 Cohen, J. 2021, ‘For the next big ecommerce trend, look down and east’, The Hustle, 16 February.
 Sineau, T. 2021, ‘Live$tream that,’ CB Insights, 25 February.
 Ovide, S. 2021, ‘Why the internet is turning into QVC,’ The New York Times, 11 November.
 Baird, N 2021, ‘Livestream shopping is not going to take over e-commerce’, Forbes, 5 May.
Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.
About the Author: Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.