Shopify

Live Shopping: How To Launch A Live Event That Drives Engagement And Conversions

live-shopping:-how-to-launch-a-live-event-that-drives-engagement-and-conversions

When experts predicted that lives shopping was going to be one of the biggest ecommerce trends of the future, more than a few questioned its staying power. But now is the time to put aside your skepticism. What’s old is suddenly new again, as consumers are buying in—literally—to a shopping format first pioneered in the 1970s. 

If you’re not already familiar with live shopping, think the Home Shopping Network—but streamable on mobile phones, through websites, and on apps such as Instagram. This form of social commerce first took off about five years ago in China. Now, the value of the Chinese live-commerce market is expected to reach $423 billion in sales by 2022.  

But it’s just been within the last two years that the rest of the world has started to catch up. Lives shopping events generated an estimated $5.6 billion in US sales in 2020. It’s projected to reach $11 billion by the end of 2021 and nearly $25 billion by 2023, according to Coresight Research, a firm that specializes in retail and technology. And according to McKinsey, if China’s experience is any guide, live commerce sales could account for as much as 20% of all ecommerce by 2026.  

The pandemic played no small part in the resurgence of this method of shopping. For cities and countries still in lockdown, live shopping is the experience that most closely resembles in-person shopping. Buyers can watch people try on products in real time and comment, allowing the brand to get feedback instantly. There’s often a human element, like a well-known influencer or personality who acts like a glamorous version of a buyer’s favorite customer support staff. Consider Viya, a popular livestreamer from China. She had a conversation with Kim Kardashian West just before Singles’ Day (China’s answer to Black Friday), aiding the influencer mogul in selling 150,000 bottles of perfume in seconds.

Here’s how live shopping got its start, the benefits for ecommerce merchants, and how to launch your own live shopping event. 

Table of contents

What is live shopping—and how did it get started?

If you’re not already familiar with live shopping, think the Home Shopping Network—but streamable on mobile phones, through websites, and on apps such as Instagram. This form of social commerce first took off about five years ago in China. Now, the value of the Chinese live-commerce market is expected to reach $423 billion in sales by 2022.  

To understand live shopping, let’s go back a few decades. In the late ’70s and early to mid-80s, live shopping networks like QVC and the Home Shopping Channel began to appear on televisions, first across North America and then worldwide. In Canada, there was The Shopping Channel, and there were regionalized versions of QVC in France and Japan, to name a few. 

These channels specialized in selling home goods, fashion, and beauty. Sears was the first to sign a two-year contract with QVC when it launched in 1986. The channels had their cornerstone hosts and, when celebrity-backed products began to circulate in the market, influential figures would appear on these channels to pitch directly to consumers. 

Really, the latest iteration isn’t much different—just swap-out televisions for mobile phones, TV networks for social media platforms, and “Call now” hotlines for Buy Now buttons. Otherwise, the key elements of social selling are still the same: There’s a real-time feedback loop for buyers, including reviews of products, demonstrations, and the opportunity to ask questions.

“It’s basically digitizing QVC and HSN,” Deborah Weinswig, chief executive officer of Coresight Research—a firm that studies retail and technology—told Bloomberg. “It’s a huge opportunity.”

However, the way we know live shopping today is a relatively recent development. ShopShops, for example, was launched in 2015 by founder Liyia Wu, who established the company as a directory of sorts for US retailers to reach Chinese travelers. This means of buying has grown to be an enormously lucrative endeavor. It is an over $60 billion industry that is likely going to grow. For example, NTWRK, which is a mobile app that uses live shows to sell limited-edition products, such as sneakers, has seen its sales surge by 400%. Some shows reached $1 million in sales in approximately 10 minutes. 

COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of live shopping, giving ample space and opportunity for it to reach North American and European buyers. 

Since ShopShops’ founding, Wu has expanded the enterprise for US buyers, kicking it off on Instagram Live, one of many platforms to live shop on, with Rebecca Minkoff. The American it-bag designer is no stranger to technological advances in fashion ecommerce, having embraced 3D tech early on. As Minkoff told WWD, this opportunity with ShopShops essentially saved her brand. 

We know the future of shopping is going to be video,” Minkoff told WWD. “But how do you make it interactive? Because there are a lot of platforms out there that are great. But [Liyia] makes it turnkey. And to be able to be the ShopShops launch partner for the U.S. was kind of an easy ask.”

By 2020, other platforms had begun to join the fray, including Facebook Shops. And here at Shopify Plus, we started integrating live videos within our stores in April 2020. 

What are the benefits of live stream shopping events?

Between January 1, 2021, and September 30, 2021, the number of Shopify merchants installing apps for live shopping grew by 61% globally, compared to the same time period in 2020.

The rate of adoption to live shopping is going to increase in 2022 (1). Of the brands surveyed in the Forrester research, 49% of brands plan to increase their investment in social commerce in 2022, with 81% planning to either increase or maintain investment in live shopping to drive sales.

“My prediction is that in a couple years, the hottest role for a brand to hire is going to be a head of live shopping,” Kevin Gould, co-founder of Glamnetic—a brand that already employs someone in the position—said in Shopify’s 2022 Future of Commerce report (2).

High conversion rates and higher engagement.

We’re going to be honest—the verdict is still out whether livestreams entice viewers to buy. Some analysts say that less than 1% of viewers actually buy something from a live shopping event, while the most successful live shopping events can expect to capture between 10% and 20% of the audience. 

But live shopping is still somewhat niche in the western world, which is why we need to again look to China for indications of future trends (keeping in mind that China is home to the most digital buyers in the world). There, conversion rates are as high as 40%, Mary Ghahremani, CEO of live video shopping platform provider Bambuser (which has an app for Shopify) told DigitalShelf Institute. It makes sense, as shoppers are considerably likely to convert after interacting with a sales representative, which live shopping allows them to do.

One thing that’s clear? Regardless of location, live shopping has high rates of engagement. It’s reportedly one of the best ways to pull in Gen Z shoppers, with some companies seeing younger audiences grow by 20%. 

Just look at the example of shoe retailer Aldo, which recorded a 308% engagement rate and registered 17,000 page views on its website in the first five days after a live shopping event in 2021. Likewise, in 2020, Walmart piloted a live shopping event on TikTok that allowed it to add 25% to its TikTok follower base. 

Lower returns rates.

Another well-documented benefit of live shopping events is that even if a lower number of customers convert, they are considerably less likely to return items. According to Coresight data, live shoppers are 40% less likely to return an item than other online shoppers.

“Livestreaming is an opportunity to educate the consumer, which is why returns are so much lower—they actually know what they’re buying,” Weinswig told Retail TouchPoints

The ability to demonstrate products across a range of categories.

Fashion and beauty are the clearest examples of industries that thrive in a live shopping environment. Brands in these two industries take advantage of live shopping’s ability to offer a visual of their products and showcase them in use, including techniques or different methods of styling. 

They’re not the only category that can benefit from live shopping though—a recent Coresight survey found that 41.2% of consumers said they tune in to livestreams focused on home products (such as home furnishings), and 37.5% said they watch live shopping events for electronics. After apparel and fashion (35.6%), and beauty (7.6%), the top product hawked on live events is actually fresh food (7.4%), reports McKinsey. 

Live shopping is an avenue for many different categories, industries, and brands to find and reach their buyers. All they need to know is which platforms and apps their buyers are using. 

Selecting your live shopping platform

With QVC and HSN, it was easy to know where your buyers came from: in their living room in front of the television set. Now, live shopping can happen on a buyer’s phone or computer, and, yes, streamed on their smart television, too. 

There are three main avenues for hosting your live shopping event:

 1. Dedicated live shopping platforms or apps.

With a built-in audience, these platforms are a great option for merchants looking to find new followers or who are dabbling in live shopping as a means of marketing.  

In China, where live shopping is the most prevalent, there are a few places to go to participate. There’s TaoBao Live, which saw a profit of $6 billion on Singles’ Day in November 2020, a 100% increase from 2019’s sales amount. WeChat has also started offering live shopping. 

Now that live shopping is gaining traction elsewhere in the world, several platforms have sprung up to support it. Here are just a handful:

  • ShopShops is widely popular with Chinese consumers. This platform has since expanded to the US market. 
  • Talkshoplive debuted in 2018 and has two million followers (and growing). Since its inception, Talkshoplive’s sales have increased, according to Bloomberg, by seven times.

However, using third-party platforms has several disadvantages, namely that it means giving up control of the customer experience. There may be a disconnect in terms of branding, and it may also mean that opportunities for personalization, re-engagement and data capture are limited.

2. Hosting a live shopping event on your own store.

Want more control and customization? Then you’ll want to host the live shopping event on your own storefront. (For Shopify Plus merchants, this is possible by using the TK feature.) This is the route that many retailers are taking, including Nordstrom, which has its own live shopping channel and has hosted founders and experts from brands like Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani, and Charlotte Tilbury.

In addition to offering better opportunities for branding and data capture, self-hosting can also result in greater opportunities to repurpose content or replay the live shopping event after it’s aired. Retail TouchPoints says that this is an important capability, as 70% of sales from livestreaming happen after an event. To maximize viewership, you can also choose to simultaneously cast on social platforms. 

Unfortunately, just because you build an event doesn’t mean customers will come. To make this work, you’ll need to develop a strategy for attracting shopping to an isolated event (more on that below).

3. Social media platforms with built-in shopping capabilities.

Social media platforms are unsurprisingly the most popular platforms for hosting live shopping events. They’re easy to implement, especially if you’re already using those channels to sell. 

YouTube is leading the way with its livestreaming options, followed by Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, and more niche platforms such as Twitch (which has traditionally been used as a live gaming platform). 

How to do live shopping on Instagram

Instagram Live Shopping is now available for US-based brands and creators who have business accounts and checkout capabilities. From February to March 2020, Instagram Live views jumped by 70%

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Make sure your Instagram shop is fully set up and that products are in your catalogue three days before your event.
  2. When it’s time to stream, head to your story and select Live.
  3. Tap the shopping bag icon and select the products you plan on selling during the event. 
  4. While on air, tap the shopping bag icon and tap Pin for products you want to highlight. 
  5. Afterward, download the livestream so viewers can replay it. 

How to do live shopping on Facebook

Live Shopping on Facebook is similarly easy to set up for merchants that have shops set up on the platform

Here’s how to get started, as per Facebook Business’ instructions:

On your desktop:

  1. Make sure your Facebook shop is fully set up and that products are in your catalogue three days before the event. 
  2. Go to your Facebook page. In the Create section, click Live. Go to the Live Shopping tab and toggle on Enable Live Shopping.
  3. Under Select a Playlist, click Choose My Playlist and click Save. The products from your playlist will show under Feature Items so you can share them in your live video.
  4. Under Post, give your video a title. Click Go Live when you’re ready.
  5. After you’ve started your video, click Feature under the product or link that you want to show your viewers.
  6. To feature a different product, click Stop Featuring, then click Feature under the new product. 
  7. Once you’re done, click End Live Video. 
  8. Post the live video on your page’s timeline so viewers can return to the video for reference or see it for the first time.

On your phone:

  1. Make sure your Facebook shop is fully set up and that products are in your catalogue three days before the event. 
  2. Tap You Can Now Go Live on the notification. This will take you to the Mobile Broadcaster tool. If you don’t see this notification, you can go to the Create section of your Facebook page and tap Start Live Video.
  3. Tap Choose My Playlist. Select the playlist you want to use, and tap Done.
  4. When you’re ready to go live, tap Start Live Video.
  5. After you’ve started your video, tap View Products to see which products are available to feature, or to view the order of products featured in your playlist. Tap Start Featuring to start sharing your first product. You can feature only one product at a time. 
  6. You can tap Next Product to move from one product to another or tap View Products and tap Feature beside the product you want to show.
  7. When you’re done, tap Finish in the bottom of your screen. 
  8. Post the live video on your page’s timeline so viewers can return to the video for reference or see it for the first time.

Best practices for using live shopping in your ecommerce marketing strategy

Consider your format.

A successful live shopping event is based on two key elements: product demos and the opportunity for genuine interaction between the brand and the consumers. But the format this takes is totally up to you. 

Popular formats include tutorials (Home Depot, for example, has been livestreaming basic DIY workshops, while makeup tutorials are another common example), interviews or Q&As (often with a celebrity, influencer, or brand ambassador), and behind-the-scenes clips to show how a product is developed or made. 

Lives shopping events shouldn’t just be an ad—they should be entertaining.

The one major difference today’s live shopping events have from the home shopping networks of the past? The audience is no longer captive; consumers have more than 20 cable channels to choose from and are unlikely to settle down to watch a live shopping event because “nothing else good is on.” 

For an audience with a notoriously short attention span, you’ll need to make your live shopping event not just informative, but fun. A great example was the 22-minute livestream pet adoption event that Petco hosted in April 2021, featuring a doggie fashion show. Roughly one million people tuned in, with the event generating a 12% lift in online traffic and generating sales that were double the cost of holding the event. All the canine models were also successfully adopted. 

“It turned out that a pet fashion show was exactly what our consumers wanted from us,” Jay Altschuler, Vice President of Media Transformation for Petco, told The Washington Post. “We went in with very modest expectations and didn’t really believe it was going to be a huge driver—but it was.” 

Collaboration is crucial to the success of live shopping—not influencers

The face of a live shopping event matters greatly to a buying audience. Part of the reason Chinese consumers bought into live shopping early on is because of the role key opinion leaders (KOLs) played. In China, buyers pay close attention to KOL influencers. Viya profited enormously from and amplified the world of live shopping, helping usher it into the future of buying. 

Much like celebrity endorsement deals in the ’80s and ’90s, a publicly associated figure is key for developing trust and loyalty with buyers. Today, those key figures are influencers. The average-person-is-a-star influencer role is an enormous industry (think $15 billion+ by 2022).  

Influencer marketing has really opened that avenue for brands to reach and find new customers. Buyers want product recommendations from people they trust, and it has become easier to trust a full, complex human on Instagram who looks like they could be part of your own social circle. Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, launched its Social Tourist’ clothing line in 2021 on Charli D’Amelio’s TikTok channel, the largest on the platform, with over 100 million followers. 

But while influencers can create a sense of urgency (if consumers log in at the right time, they may have the opportunity to interact directly with their fave celeb), they’re not necessary to drive conversion. 

According to Coresight’s research, people closely tied to brands are the most effective sellers, as they know the products best and feel the most passionately about them. JCPenney’s JCP Live shopping events, for example, feature store associates selling the products or showing how to style them. This authenticity helps viewers emotionally connect with a product.

If you do want to go the influencer route, keep in mind that micro- and nano-influencers are an affordable option, typically with highly engaged audiences—reportedly 10 times more than mega- or macro-influencers. 

Keep it personal and connect to the viewer.

A great example is the cruelty-free makeup and skin care brand founded by Jennifer Bradley. Jennifer uses Facebook Live to engage with her community, talking about her personal life while trying on products in such a way that seems almost like a couple of friends chatting. 

“We need to still connect with the viewer,” said Lisa Mason, a jewelry designer and former QVC host, at a Coresight event earlier this year. “There is just one person you’re speaking to. Even though you might have 10 million followers, you’re speaking one-on-one with each person. Remember basic things like identify the item and describe it with rich, full words—‘the whisper-light texture of the moisturizer.’ [On livestreaming], you hear a lot of ‘I’: ‘I love it.’ ‘I think it’s great.’ It should really be more ‘you’ statements. Paint the picture for her, put it in her life and then ask for the sell.” 

The future of live shopping.

Ecommerce shopping is fast and convenient, but the solution for human interaction or an experience for online shopping is something brands have long wanted to include but haven’t been able to quite figure out. Live shopping provides a necessary dose of human connection in a buying interaction that can feel a little human-less.

Though a post-COVID life is on the horizon, live shopping—like many other new or adapted consumer behaviors and technologies—is going to remain a crucial pillar of the buying experience. 

(1)(2) Shopify eCommerce Market Credibility Study: Data Review, a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, September 27, 2021.

Live shopping FAQ

What is live shopping?

Live shopping is a type of selling that takes place online. Using video livestreaming and social media platforms, live shopping events allow businesses to create in-store shopping experiences to the online world. 

How does live shopping work?

From a buyer’s perspective, live shopping is a highly interactive experience. They join the live shopping event (either on Facebook, Instagram or other live shopping platforms) and see the products showcased. Sellers can showcase how products work, what they look like and highlight features in an engaging way. If the buyer likes the product, they can go from the livestream to the product listing. Some sellers offer discount codes that can only be used during the duration of the live shopping event to boost the feeling of exclusivity and “hype.”

What is a live sale?

A live sale occurs after a customer clicks through from the live shopping event to the product listing page. In many cases, sellers offer benefits to the consumer like discount codes and free shipping that can only be used during specific time windows.

How to do live shopping on Facebook

  1. Make sure your Facebook shop is fully set up and that products are in your catalogue three days before the event. 
  2. Go to your Facebook page. In the Create section, click Live. Go to the Live Shopping tab and toggle on Enable Live Shopping.
  3. Under Select a Playlist, click Choose My Playlist and click Save. The products from your playlist will show under Feature Items so you can share them in your live video.
  4. Under Post, give your video a title. Click Go Live when you’re ready.
  5. After you’ve started your video, click Feature under the product or link that you want to show your viewers.
  6. To feature a different product, click Stop Featuring, then click Feature under the new product. 
  7. Once you’re done, click End Live Video. 
  8. Post the live video on your page’s timeline so viewers can return to the video for reference or see it for the first time.

For more, check out Facebook’s guide: Live shopping on Facebook

How to do live shopping on Instagram

  1. Make sure your Instagram shop is fully set up and that products are in your catalogue three days before your event.
  2. When it’s time to stream, head to your story and select Live.
  3. Tap the shopping bag icon and select the products you plan on selling during the event. 
  4. While on air, tap the shopping bag icon and tap Pin for products you want to highlight. 
  5. Afterward, download the livestream so viewers can replay it.

For more, check out instagram’s guide: How to Use Live Shopping to Reach Customers

This originally appeared on Shopify Plus and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.

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