Retail is ever-changing, and although the switch from high street to online might attract attention, it distracts from the underlying trends that affect not just where we shop, but how we shop. The latest trend has been the rise of livestream shopping.
Still largely unheard of in the UK and Europe. Livestream shopping is huge business elsewhere. In the US it’s estimated to be worth between $10 and $20 billion a year, but this is dwarfed by China, which is predicted to see a livestream market worth $480 billion in 2023. And Europe is likely to follow, the viewership for livestream shopping grew by 40% each quarter over the past year.
TFN spoke to two livestream shopping experts to understand more. Claire McHugh is the CEO of Axonista, a global company that helps brands with their video product innovation, and Karoline Gross, CEO of Smartzer, a livestream shopping platform. They are helping businesses conquer the next evolution of shopping.
An intuitive way to shop, and engage with brands
Livestream shopping is, arguably, a natural development in shopping. In some ways, it echoes the live demonstrations that would sometimes happen in stores to stimulate interest, but on a potentially global scale. McHugh recalled when the idea first struck her, while having a drink with her co-founder, Daragh Ward. “We were watching video on an early iPhone, and asking what could happen if we could interact with it?” The idea stayed with her, and she realised that video would become something that would be intuitively interactive.
Gross’s Smartzer developed livestream shopping in response to client demand. “We started making interactive, shoppable, video, but at the beginning of Covid, we started getting a lot of requests for livestream shopping.” Being a relatively simple move, they added live format to their offer and, launching a year ago, have seen the format take off.
Both McHugh and Gross target their product at brands. McHugh’s Axonista, for example, has QVC as a key customer, where their livestream shopping adds additional ways for the 92 million people their streaming reaches to interact. But she also works with brands that do not have QVC’s experience in broadcast. “We help translate and navigate the technology for brands that are becoming media companies,” she says. “It can be challenging to break into that if you’re like a retailer that’s looking at incorporating video into your products for the first time.”
Gross also notes the challenge for businesses coming to livestream shopping. “The technology is actually the easiest side of this,” Gross says. Instead, the hardest part is changing the brand’s mindset, “it’s getting their presenters thinking about how they’re going to set this up, making sure that they provide that information, and they have someone who’s engaging.”
A shopping experience that is crossing cultures
Livestream shopping also helps brands extend their reach in diverse global markets. Axonista is based in Ireland, but the company itself is endeavours to reflect the world’s diversity. “We have twelve nationalities in our team, and we’re very on top of our gender metrics,” says McHugh. “If you’re building a global product, you should think about all the users who will be there and bring as many perspectives to the table as possible.” And the diversity of the global marketplace is highlighted by the different ways that livestream has been adopted. “The European markets are a little bit behind the US,” says Gross. “In the US, companies like Amazon and Walmart were getting into interactive shopping very quickly, and they took a lot of brands with them.”
McHugh also believes that the maturity of Western markets meant the adoption curve of livestream shopping has been slower. “China’s a very different market, the culture is very aligned with shopping and speed,” she says. “There are a lot of things that help livestream shopping progress.” Western markets have had to overcome inertia, with marketing departments that might have decades of experience in more traditional advertising and selling. But change is coming, McHugh adds. “The US is following a similar trajectory to China. The video commerce market will be worth $35 billion by 2024, and that’s an 83% year-on-year growth.”
However, as retail continues to evolve, both McHugh and Gross are confident that livestream retail will play a big role in our shopping lives in the near future. And, perhaps, having seen the twentieth century marked by retail consolidating into giant companies, often in giant stores, livestream retail will see the resurgence of smaller brands connecting directly and easily with their customers. Gross highlights what she believes is one of the big benefits of livestream: “brands can create content really cheaply. You can film this thing on an iPhone for free, use your employees in your office, in your showroom, in your store, and it doesn’t have to cost you much money.”