When the world closed up shop in 2020, ecommerce shifted into a new gear. But how consumers shop online is set to change. 

In the pandemic’s early days, simply getting goods out of the door was a challenge. But with more consumers now shopping online, and brick-and-mortar footfall still down in many locations, retail is facing a new competitive frontier. 

It’s never been harder for brands to stand out, and guide their customers to the products they want.

Livestream commerce may just be the solution.

Consumers want an entertaining shopping experience.

Ecommerce boomed as stay-at-home orders were issued, and the increased activity has stuck as we make our way toward Christmas. 

49% of consumers expect to shop online more frequently, even after the pandemic. 

But given the context of a virus, aspects of the experience are beginning to feel stale. Product delivery has to be socially distanced, there’s little interaction with staff or fellow shoppers and, most of all, fewer ways for a brand to distinguish itself. 

While consumers want reduced friction in the purchase process – online purchases are largely driven by the “seamless” qualities of free delivery (60%) and an easy checkout (43%) – it’s worth thinking about what’s lost from the shopping experience under widespread restrictions.

29% of consumers want the experience to be entertaining. Meanwhile, trying on products is harder, if not impossible, and the social aspect is largely gone as well.

Entertainment as important as support

Many retailers recognized support for social causes as a potential deal-clincher (or deal-breaker) for consumers during 2020. But an entertaining experience is just as important – and it will become even more so throughout 2021.

The call for “entertainmerce” has come loudest from high-income earners (32%) and millennials (33%). There’s serious spending intent up for grabs for retailers who are prepared to step up. 

Introducing livestream commerce

Livestreams are already emerging in some parts of the globe as a way to incorporate entertainment into the shopping experience. Crucially, they’re engaging and easily accessible. 

In May 2020, Chinese livestreamer Viya hosted a livestream to more than 37 million users, resulting in her audience placing orders totalling millions of dollars. 

While it’s been popularized in China, brands across the globe should be prepared for livestream commerce spreading in some form.

In October we saw the biggest signs to date that livestream commerce is gearing up for a big 2021:

Though entertainment is less in demand in the West, it’s still up there in the priority list. 

In both China and Germany, for example, an entertaining experience is the third leading purchase motivator – just behind free delivery/returns and quick/easy check-out.

Building the brand-consumer relationship online

When consumers watch livestreams, they’re not necessarily there to make a purchase. Much like when visiting retailers in-store, they can be “just browsing”.

This creates an environment where retailers of all sizes can recreate their own unique storefronts online. 

We’ve covered elsewhere how Gen Z are surprisingly fond of shopping in-store. There’s likely to be pent-up demand among younger consumers for aspects of the in-store experience – even when shopping online – and livestreams may just fit the bill. 

The livestream model in China is based around influencers (known in the country as “key opinion leaders”) like Viya, and it’s understandable retailers might flinch from putting their reputation in someone else’s hands. But our research shows just how much consumers trust and value influencers’ opinion, and how ready they are to buy through them. 

More to the point – communities can form around influencers when many consumers are shopping in isolation. They can also provide a human face to brands at a time when consumers are looking for empathy to help support them through the pandemic. 

29% of internet users across 7 countries frequently watch livestreams from influencers they follow on social media.

And among those who do that, 80% say they’re likely to buy products as a result. 

Livestream markets are mobile-first

The intersection of livestreaming and retail is something more than QVC and teleshopping having moved to a new medium. The reason this form of online shopping stands apart is because of the interaction it fosters between viewer and streamer. 

Small businesses, forced to innovate with fewer resources to manage store closures, have been at the vanguard, showing off their personalities and catalogs via livestreams

Larger retailers looking to get on board should think about how their setup can reflect their values and identity as well. While using influencers as sellers or brand storytellers requires relaxing control, it may well be worth the risk to avoid getting lost in a sea of competitors. 

Next stop: the West

Those with a close eye on China have speculated whether livestream shopping could move West before, and many have different interpretations of what’s at the heart of the trend. 

For some, it’s all about keeping the viewer entertained. Or, it’s about being able to see products demonstrated live. For others, it’s the scarcity factor, driving purchases through offering limited “drops” of new merchandise. 

While it has to be entertaining, it also has to be informative. Consumers tune into livestreams because they’ll learn much more about the brand and product than simple online descriptions, pictures, and even videos. It’s about finding the best way for brands to teach the consumer why they should buy their product.

Which aspects matter most depends on the market. Broadly speaking, entertainment is the key draw. But cultural factors are also behind consumers’ motivations for watching livestreams.

In some key markets (like the U.S., UK, and India) viewing a live demo is more important to consumers than being entertained. In these countries, a more restrained approach, concentrating on product quality and durability, will land better than more entertainment-minded approaches. 

It’s been stated that 2020 jumped ecommerce forward by “about five years”. Next year may be the year infrastructure catches up to deal with the extra demand. 

Consumers thrive on experiences, and the pandemic has forced retailers to ensure this is possible online. Livestreams aren’t just a way to offload stock in a pinch, they’re a way to stay relevant and discoverable in a retail world that’s increasingly online-first. 

Worst-case scenario (involving more cases and restrictions)

If further lockdowns are on the horizon, and in-store shopping is restricted even more, demand for a more entertaining and interactive online shopping experience will no doubt escalate. To replicate the social, fun, and interactive element that comes with in-store shopping, livestreams are the perfect avenue. Now would be the time to start experimenting, as tactics may be even more necessary in the coming years.

Best-case scenario (where normality is more plausible)

A quick return to normality will likely unleash pent-up demand back to stores, but livestreams will stick around. The majority of consumers plan to shop online more often once the pandemic is over, and for those craving a more entertaining and interactive experience, livestreams will help brands elevate the online shopping experience into something far more than just buying a product.

Click to access our connecting the dots 2021 report

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