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Ultimate Guide to Live Shopping [Updated 2023 - With Examples]
Real talk: Chances are at this moment in time, if you surveyed 20 marketers or ecommerce leads on what they think live shopping is, they’d each have their own idea or definition.
Ghost, of course, is a live shopping platform. But people new to the space may leap to conclusions that Ghost is essentially ‘QVC for websites’ or ‘video chat’.
The actual definition of live shopping really isn’t that complicated: Live shopping brings together video and ecommerce.
There are a lot of ways video and ecommerce can (and should) play nicely together. Especially when you consider 85% of shoppers say that videos are essential to their shopping process, and almost half feel more confident in making a purchase after watching a video.
In this blog, we’re breaking down the primary types of live video shopping, examples of where it’s being done, and the pros and cons of each type of live shopping model.
Is live shopping a trend?
When it comes to creating an optimal online shopping experience, live video shopping is definitely one of buzziest new kids on the ecommerce block. Well, kind of. In actuality, live stream shopping is already a mega phenomenon in Asia.
Some signs from Asia that live shopping is primed for global growth:
- In 2020, ecommerce giant Alibaba generated $7.5 billion in revenue in the first 30 minutes of their livestream shopping campaign on Taobao.
- 2/3rds of all Chinese consumers have bought products via livestream in the past two years.
- The live commerce market in China has a CAGR of more than 280% between 2017 and 2020.
- More than 10% of China's entire ecommerce market is driven by live shopping.
Turning our focus to North America, live shopping may be just starting to catch fire, but it's hardly brand new. In 2020, live shopping generated $5.6B in the U.S. According to Coresight Research, that number is projected to grow as high as $25B by the end of 2023.
Not to mention, Forbes named live shopping as the #1 ecommerce trend to watch in 2023 - among dozens of other spotlights in the lead up to the New Year.
But what exactly is live shopping? Who is live shopping for? How are others using live commerce? We answer all of these questions (and more) in this in-depth guide to everything you've ever wanted to know about live shopping.
What is live video shopping?
Live shopping gives customers the chance to view and purchase a product through video. This may take place in a one-to-many livestream shopping event, or in a one-to-one live co-shopping experience, both of which are powered by some type of live commerce platform.
You can think of one-to-many events as the equivalent of a modern-day shopping channel, or 'QVC for Gen Z' to put it colloquially. Meanwhile one-to-one live shopping is basically taking the in-store experience of speaking with an associate or personal shopper, and bringing it online - on demand.
In both scenarios, potential customers are presented with the opportunity to learn more about a product, and either add to cart or buy the item within their live shopping experience.
Get a full breakdown of what a live online shopping experience is like by watching our video below.
Where did live shopping begin?
Everything old is new again, as the saying goes. If podcasts are a reinvention of radio, then you can think of live shopping as a reinvention of TV shopping channels like QVC or the Home Shopping Network. But, instead of being relegated to sitting in front a TV, the promise of live shopping is you can connect with a brand from anywhere. Thanks smartphones.
Live shopping, as we mentioned above, got its start in China around 2016. Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba (a sort of Amazon equivalent) teamed up with their subsidiary Taobao to launch a livestream event that let people watch and shop at the same time. It caught on quickly, and Alibaba soon made livestream shopping events a keystone in their Singles' Day events. Singles' Day, taking place on November 11 annually, has become an unofficial 'shopping holiday' akin to Black Friday in the U.S. or Amazon Prime Day.
Since then, the stakes have only been raised for livestream shopping events. Production quality has ramped up, hosts not only become celebrities unto themselves, but celebrities are hosting live shopping shows or calls, and exciting offers are dropped during events that drive major sales.
Why has live shopping taken off so strongly in China? Before you ask: Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic certainly accelerated live shopping adoption. In lieu of getting into physical stores, brands were able to create virtual stores that required nothing more than a smartphone, ring light, and a savvy host to speak to some of the latest and greatest products a brand was dropping.
But even with the peak of the pandemic hopefully in the rearview mirror, live shopping continues to be not only a growing, but accelerating ecommerce channel in Asia. A lot of that comes down to adding a human touch to what's previously been a rather impersonal, sterile shopping experience. AI-driven personalization has helped online shopping feel a little more tailored, but it still pales in comparison to the in-store experience of connecting with an associate to get product recommendations, advice, and support.
Not only that, we live in an era where 'personal brand' is common parlance. More and more young people (and really, people at any age, from any demographic) are turning to careers as creators or influencers, whether starring in their own YouTube Live programs or producing shareable content on TikTok. Some of the most-followed individuals on social media (hi, Kardashian klan) are famous for being famous.
Live shopping is a prime way to seize the captive audiences these individuals have generated, while giving shoppers that more personal experience they crave.
One to one or one to many in video shopping?
Let's break down the two main types of live shopping experiences. One to one live shopping connects a single shopper with a live shopping associate. Shoppers usually initiate a call on a brand website when they need help finding a product for their specific needs, or if they have questions about a product. During a live video shopping call, the live shopping associate can share products and information, and even add products to a customer's bag and help them check out.
Think of one to one live shopping as equivalent to visiting a retail store and shopping with an associate by your side; recommending items, pointing you to specific areas of the store, and bringing you to the till to check out.
In contrast, one to many livestream shopping events are more like a modern day version of QVC or Home Shopping Network. Shoppers watch a live video show on a retailer's website or on social media, with a host (or hosts) walking them through specific products. Shoppers typically aren't able to talk to each other or directly to the host. They may be able to 'react' on social channels, participate in a chat, or ask questions by messaging. During a livestream shopping event, shoppers should be able to add products to their bag and even checkout.
If the question is should you do one to many or one to one live shopping, well, they're not exactly the same, friend. Having both available serves two different purposes. One to one is great for customers who are looking for a tailored personal shopping experience. It's most effective for boosting basket sizes and driving conversions.
One to many livestream shopping can be an effective way to boost awareness for a brand or a specific campaign or collection. If cross-streaming to platforms like Facebook Live or Instagram Live, it can also be an effective way to leverage existing followers and boost organic reach.
Having both one to one and one to many live commerce available gives shoppers at different stages in their buying journey the chance to learn more about a product through video before making a purchase.
What is a live shopping event?
A live shopping event is simply another name for a one to many live stream shopping experience. The livestream shopping event will have a specific date and air time that is promoted to a brand's followers across social media, email, and possibly their website.
There are multiple places for livestream shopping events to take place. A brand may choose to host the live event exclusively on their website, or they may even choose to have a private live shopping party with VIP customers.
Alternatively, a live commerce event may be hosted on a specific social media channel like Facebook Live, or Instagram Live shopping. Even platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and Pinterest are getting into live streaming, not to mention Amazon Live and YouTube TV. With the rise of social media platform events like live shopping Fridays, shoppers are getting more attuned to the idea of live video commerce.
These types of live stream shopping events are all about pushing out awareness for a live streaming shopping event and encouraging attendees to join a call. But there is another way to produce live shopping content.
There are several platforms that are dedicated to hosting live shopping shows, pretty much around the clock - sort of like the new school version of QVC or HSN. NTWRK, Popshoplive, and Shopshops are just a few examples of platforms that live in a hybrid space between social media and live shopping, sometimes referred to as social commerce.
Are there other types of live shopping?
While one-to-many livestream events and one-to-one personal shopping support are the two most common types of live shopping, they're not the only types of experiences that marry video and ecommerce.
One-to-few live shopping involves bringing together a small group of individuals for a private shopping event. This could take the form of a one-to-many style livestream, where VIP customers are treated to an exclusive sneak peek of a new collection or drop. Or it could be more like a one-to-one interactive call, but with multiple attendees on the customer side. For example, a bride could join a call with her bridesmaids to co-shop for bridesmaids dresses, no matter where they're located. Or a business with independent sales consultants could host events with a consultant, party host, and guests to talk through product launches and top picks.
Social commerce, at least when it comes to livestream shopping, is typically a subset of one-to-many live streaming events, where the livestream is hosted on a social media platform. Social commerce events can be hosted by individuals selling on behalf of a brand, or by the brand itself.
Finally, there is also shoppable video. Unlike 'live' shopping, shoppable videos are static, representing a moment in time. Shoppers can view and interact with these videos wherever they're shared - on product detail pages, social media, email, and beyond, including making purchases of items featured within the video.
What are the benefits of live shopping?
Let's be real. The online shopping experience hasn't really changed a whole lot since it began in the 1990s. Shoppers are still expected to point and click or search to find products of interest. It's no wonder then that ecommerce conversion rates are still in the 2-4% range, and return rates from online sales are significantly higher than in-store.
Yet there's an obvious appeal to online shopping. Customers can shop anywhere, at anytime, without the restrictions of mall hours or, you know, wearing pants.
Live video shopping pairs the convenience of shopping on a customer's own terms with the guided experience they're used to in-store. In fact, live shopping can be a way to visit a store a shopper might not ever have access to otherwise, or a way to bring the store into their home or other location. These are just a few of the use cases for live shopping.
Here are some of the core benefits of live shopping:
- Boosts shopper confidence to make decisions more efficiently, speeding up the time to checkout
- Supports shoppers at every step of their buyer journey, from discovery to purchase (or even post-purchase)
- Drives more conversions by answering questions that aren't easily solved by static PDPs or chatbots
- Increases AOV by providing organic recommendations tailored to a shopper's unique needs or interests
- Gives shoppers a glimpse into retail environments (where applicable)
- Creates more engaging and interactive jobs for retail / ecommerce staff
What are people buying through live shopping?
Is live shopping for everyone? That's a fair question. We've seen that live shopping isn't restricted to a single industry or price point. That being said, live shopping tends to work best for high consideration products. High consideration doesn't necessarily equal high cost however.
Think of this example: When you shop for a pair of gym shoes, you might spend hours doing so online - looking at different brands, and then comparing different models. You might click on dozens of product pages, read descriptions, check out reviews, and if you're really into it, search elsewhere for user reviews on YouTube or social channels like Reddit. And even then, you still might buy multiple sizes of the same shoe, or two different styles to compare. That's a lot of consideration.
Based on this, gym shoes are a great candidate for live shopping support. Imagine a live shopping associate being available to talk through the type of training you do, and whether you need ankle support, or what colors you prefer. A product expert can cut down all that research time into something way more efficient for both the shopper, and the brand.
"I don't want my customers to checkout faster." <- Said no one ever.
Here are some ideas and ways different industries have been using live shopping;
- Fashion and apparel: Help shoppers find the right fit; style a look; find an item that matches something in a customer's closet
- Food and beverage: Find products that appeal to specific tastes; talk through dietary considerations
- Luxury goods and jewelry: Provide a sense of trust; show products up close; recommend gifts
- Beauty and wellness: Demonstrate how to use products; recommend products for specific skin or hair types; suggest colors and swatches
- Furniture and household goods: Show fabric swatches; suggest products for specific rooms or decor; compare products side-by-side
- Sporting goods and fitness: Recommend products for different fitness levels or goals; cross-sell products for different purposes; demonstrate product uses
- Retail: Bring customers into retail spaces; showcase in-store inventory; save customers time to pre-shop before visiting
- Electronics and appliances: Talk through technical specs; compare products; upsell warranties
- Industrial supplies & B2B: Co-shop with business clients; coordinate custom orders; talk through technical specs
How to be successful at live shopping?
Live shopping means adding an entirely new sales channel to your ecommerce mix. That kind of investment means you want to ensure it's going to be successful. We see live shopping as a supplement to existing sales and marketing efforts - not an all out replacement. But given the benefits and opportunities to do things that were previously impossible through online shopping - like virtually entering a customer's closet or home to provide styling advice - there's definitely no drawbacks in trying it out.
Here's some tips to be successful with starting up live shopping:
- Promotion is everything: Live shopping is still a relatively new experience, whether offering one-to-one personal shopping or one-to-many livestream events. You can't expect shoppers to attend something they're unfamiliar with - but once they're in the door we guarantee they'll be interested in coming back again and again. If you're offer one-on-one shopping, make sure it's highly accessible on your site, in the same way live chat is presented. Be sure to promote it via email, social, and site banners. For one-to-many live shopping, you'll want to build an entire promotional campaign and landing page leading up to your event(s).
- Turn associates into salespeople: Direct selling hasn't really been a part of online shopping, until now. Whoever you choose to staff your live shopping experience should be a step up from customer service, and instead, be there to sell. This means cross-selling products, providing thoughtful recommendations, and removing customer objections that are preventing them from checking out.
- Prepare and practice: Don't just think of live shopping as 'flipping a switch'. Instead, definitely take the time to get familiar with the technology, the setup, and the experience of hosting a live shopping call or livestream event. Try practicing with friends and family, or even colleagues, before setting associates out into the world to service actual customers.
- Offer ongoing education: Your product catalog is rarely stagnant - so why should your associates' knowledge of it be? Providing ongoing training and education is key to having informed, expert live shopping associates. The more firsthand experience they have with a product, the more authentic their product recommendations as well. Consider setting your live shopping associates up with samples of new products or give them a monthly allowance to try new items.
- Promote live shopping associates as experts: User-generated content has been readily established as a high influencer for consumer purchases. But what about your associates? They're real consumers too, and even closer to the products (read our guide to associate-generated content). Promote your top live shopping associates on your site, in content, and ask them to build up public-facing profiles and followers as well. Live shopping is all about human connection; positioning shopping associates as influencers is a great way to build those bonds and trust with your brand.
What are the differences between livestream shopping and traditional online shopping?
Traditional online shopping means customers are left to their own devices to navigate around a website, find a product they're interested in, add it to cart, create an account, and figure out payment. They may tap into customer service at some point if they're really stuck, but in general, it's a totally self-serve model.
Livestream shopping adds a human element to online shopping. Shoppers get insight or advice about a product, collection, or brand to better guide their shopping decisions. In a one-to-many scenario, the shopper is passively watching the livestream shopping host or creators promote products. In a one-to-one video shopping call, they're getting their specific questions and concerns answered directly.
But let's talk benefits, cause there's plenty of those too. Here's a breakdown of what life looks like with live shopping, and without.
What platforms is live shopping on?
As mentioned, there are multiple types of livestream shopping experiences you can create, and different platforms tend to focus on different types.
Live, one-to-one shopping calls that are accessed on demand can be supported by platforms like GhostRetail. We offer a white label solution that any brand can add to their site with minimal IT lift, leveraging their existing ecommerce tech stack.
Livestream shopping platforms to create that QVC-like 'shopping show' experience include companies like Livescale, Bambuser, and Livery.
Finally, there are social live shopping apps. These are platforms where there's an entire social community built around the shopping economy. On Meta platforms like Instagram, obviously users are there for the social media first, and may attend an Instagram Live shopping event second (it's worth noting that Meta discontinued Facebook Live shopping through Facebook Shops in fall 2022). But other platforms, like NTWRK or Popshop Live, are built with live shopping at their core.
Dig into our guide to the best live shopping apps here.
What do customers need live shopping for?
Obviously there are benefits for merchants who offer live shopping. But there are also perks for shoppers too. Below are some of the top reasons why customers using live shopping channels are coming back again and again.
Get explanations that are difficult to understand through images / text
Live shopping lets audiences see a product in 360 degrees, in real time and better understand how a product looks or moves in motion. In one-to-one live shopping sessions they can also get an understanding of whether a product is suitable for their specific needs.
Immediately address any questions or concerns
Ecommerce websites do their best to provide as much information as possible to inform a customer's decision. But every shopper has unique needs and concerns, from their body type to the activity they're buying a product for to maybe not even knowing what they're looking for. Live shopping and shoppable video experiences can be an effective way to dig into those specific nuances and get consumers the answers they need.
Demonstrate how to use a product
A product might look cool, but if a customer doesn't know how to use it or isn't sure about all of its use cases, they may hesitate to pull the trigger on purchasing. A live shopping session can give them real-life demonstrations and inspiration, including unexpected use cases or special hacks to make the most of a purchase.
Know which products can be used with each other
Cross-sells are critical for brands looking to boost average order value. Live video commerce is an excellent, organic way to cross-sell items that work together. In a one-to-many scenario, an entire show may be built around a specific product collection. For example, 'Build Your Ultimate Skincare Regime'. In a one-to-one call, shoppers may be guided to style an entire look, or to buy a makeup sponge that will help with application of a product they're interested in.
These are just a few core use cases for supporting customers in their shopping journey. Consider that almost anything you have on your site - live chat, AI-based product recommendations, special promotions and offers, new collection campaigns and more - can all be solved for in a different way through live co-shopping.
These are just a few ways live shopping benefits consumers. Check out 30+ more use cases for live shopping.
How does live commerce create value?
Live video commerce is trending up because it creates value for both the business and the customer, all while improving on core ecommerce KPIs.
On the business side, live commerce creates value by:
- Driving more conversions: Hesitant shoppers can get their questions answered or find the exact product they need with minimal effort, meaning a bigger likelihood of converting a sale.
- Boosting AOV: Having a one-on-one conversation is an organic way to upsell or cross-sell. Shoppers build trust with their live shopping associate who's able to recommend products that will give customers the best experience, all while growing basket sizes.
- Reducing returns: When a shopper is browsing on their own, they're more likely to order multiples of an item or select items they want to see in person "just to try". The result? More returns. Getting on a live shopping call can help eliminate doubt and lower the number of returns.
On the consumer side, live commerce creates value by:
- Speeding up the shopping experience: Shoppers can easily spend hours shopping online, particularly for high consideration items - anything from running shoes to a diamond necklace. Getting on a live shopping call can shorten the time it takes to find the right product, making the shopper feel satisfied to free up some minutes in their day.
- Giving customers the theater of the store, anywhere: For the first time ever, shoppers can use a live shopping platform to bring a store - and the expertise of its associates - into their home, or wherever they may be. This allows a shopper to get the experience of a store they may not be able to visit in person, and also allows for unique interactive experiences such as having a live shopping associate style a look or provide advice for what type of lighting they'd recommend for a space. While this experience most directly benefits retailers, DTC brands can create a store-like experience for the first time too.
- Creating an amazing CX: The most important benefit of live shopping for both shoppers and brands is to create a better customer experience. Bringing a human touch to online shopping is a surefire way to delight customers and create loyalty.
How are brands using live shopping?
Looking for examples of live shopping? Look no further. We've rounded up a few use cases to inspire your own live shopping experience or live show creation.
Walmart kicked off its live stream shopping efforts in December 2020 by partnering with TikTok. Their initial event generated 7x more views than anticipated and helped grow Walmart's TikTok follower base by 25%. Since then, the retail behemoth has tested out shoppable livestreams on YouTube and Twitter, and launched their own live stream shopping channel that hosts shows several times per week. While Walmart hasn't disclosed sales, the fact they've continued to invest in live streaming after their initial experiments suggests a promising future for live shopping with Walmart.
American Eagle Outfitters
Shoppers in the U.S. and Canada can connect with American Eagle live shoppers on demand through the AE website's Shop Live section and callouts. During live shopping calls, customers have full flexibility to browse the American Eagle site on their own, or the live shopping associate can share products and collections of interest directly to them. The brand has already realized 25x higher conversion rates than typical fashion & apparel averages and a significantly lower than average return rate on products bought in their live experiences.
This skin and body care brand is no stranger to hosted shopping events, having ruled the airwaves of both QVC and HSN. In recent years however, Beekman 1802 has taken matters into their own hands with the launch of the Blooming Skin Show. This livestream shopping experience is hosted on Beekman's own website, and often features special product launches and deals to entice shoppers to spend during the program. Sales during the brand's first episode were 4x higher than typical daily ecommerce sales, showing that time-sensitive promotions can go a long way to drive conversions.
Dyson has an entire Dyson Live section of their site where they regularly host live shopping events, ranging from seasonal gift guides to product demonstrations for their top-selling hair tools. For Black Friday 2022, they anchored their promotions with a live shopping event that spoke to some of the new products from Dyson, giving shoppers the option to browse while they watched. Dyson also included a special limited time to offer to drive more post-livestream conversions, and cross-posted their livestream to multiple channels for extended reach.
Many brands got creative with customer outreach during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Case in point? Tommy Hilfiger, which hosted a livestream shopping event in the summer of 2020. Apparently 14 million viewers tuned in to see the latest Tommy Hilfiger drops, and the brand sold out of 1,300 hoodies in two minutes.
Nordstrom has long offered virtual personal shopping (or one-to-one live commerce) but more recently, they launched Nordstrom Live. This interactive series of live streams brings Nordstrom's style experts and buyers to the forefront, often pairing them with creators and influencers, to talk through new product drops and provide recommendations. When events are over, shoppers can still revisit them and shop products post-session. To add a little extra incentive to their events, Nordstrom also often includes a giveaway for attendees.
Top Shelf Distillers
Not every live shopping example has to come from a major brand. Top Shelf Distillers is a boutique distillery based in Ontario, Canada. They're famous for their unique flavors - from butter tart to cream puff and beyond - as well as their expertly blended spirits. They recognized that many shoppers have tastes that simply can't be understood by any form of AI or product recommendation system. Enter live shopping: Customers can connect with a live associate to talk through their preferences and get a real understanding as to which drinks they're mostly likely to enjoy imbibing.
Newegg took a page out of the ol' 'telethon playbook' for their Black Friday 2022 promotions, with their Newegg Live streaming series that had wall-to-wall hosts for up to 12 hours at a time. These live shopping events focused on the most seasonally appropriate products - from gift ideas to items that were discounted for the Black Friday weekend - including demonstrations, reviews, and previews of video games. With anywhere from hundreds to thousands of viewers througout their weeklong block of programming, Newegg also enabled in-stream purchases through TikTok, YouTube, their mobile app, and on the Newegg website.
Looking for more examples of live shopping in action? Check out our guide to 30+ retailers that are offering virtual personal shopping.
Is live selling a trend?
Let's talk timelines for a second. Livestream shopping first emerged in China around 2016. Its success sincerely multiplied during the Covid-19 pandemic, when many shoppers were stuck in their homes and unable to access retail locations.
The rest of the world took note and many brands started offering similar services and live stream shopping events as well throughout 2020 and 2021.
But live shopping doesn't show any sign of slowing down, even as the world has opened up again post-pandemic. Customers and merchants have responded favorably to live virtual shopping experiences, whether attending a live stream shopping event or connecting with a live shopping associate one-on-one.
As a result, the livestream shopping industry is projected to grow to $500B globally within 2022, and social media platforms and other alternatives like Amazon Live are doubling down on their efforts to invest in this new form of interactive shopping.
How to get started with livestream shopping?
There are six key questions you'll need to think about when planning your live video shopping experience. Luckily for you, we've rounded them all up in our very handy guide: How to Build a Live Shopping Experience.
Download our ebook to get insight on:
- Choosing a location and setup for your live shopping experience
- Identifying associates / hosts for live shopping calls or events
- How to train live shopping associates
- Equipment considerations for any live shopping experience
- Running a live shopping pilot
- Promotional strategies for live shopping
Even better news? There's a shortcut to kickstarting your livestream shopping experience, and it's called working with GhostRetail. We help all of our clients build an amazing live shopping experience from the ground up, with hands on support, tutorials, and training. Book a demo with us today to talk about your live shopping goals.