Carla Stevenné's first live stream terrified her. As part of Amazon Live's influencer beta group, she had to find things to sell, and figure out how to fill her allotted hour. She had never tried to sell products live, let alone talk to herself and a camera for 60 minutes. She looked around her house. A couple of things stood out: a waterproof bluetooth speaker, Crest 3D whitestrips, and a bluetooth karaoke machine.
"I look at the time, I was 15 minutes in, (and) I think," O. M. G., another 45 minutes to an hour – I don't know how to do that. ", She says.
Almost no one tuned in to Stevenné's first stream, but now, more than 200 streams later, she says an hour is nowhere near as daunting, and hundreds of people can tune in at the same time.
2020 was the year of live shopping for US tech companies. Amazon launched Amazon Live for influencers in July, and Instagram and Facebook launched live shopping functions in August. Google's research and development division, Area 21, also launched Shoploop, which is not live but has shoppable stories, and smaller startups continued their efforts to make live shopping not just a thing but the future of retail. It looks like a modern twist on QVC on any platform – but with influencers instead of celebrities, and those influencers are getting their revenue cut.
Carla Stevenné recently showed beauty products on a live stream.
There are good reasons for tech companies to believe that live shopping could be big in the US: It's already massive in China. In March, 60 million people tuned into live streams, up from 126 million from last June. This is according to a report published by the China Internet Network Information Center. Even Kim Kardashian West has teamed up with a prolific Chinese influencer on a live shopping stream and reportedly sold 15,000 bottles of perfume almost instantly.
"Live shopping is a really fantastic one-two punch of discovery and reflection, and of course it's a medium that is good for entertainment, so shopping as entertainment," said Layla Amjadi, Instagram product manager for shopping. "You can not only discover this product, you can also hear about it, see it in motion, see it in action."
With a pandemic that saw retail stores close, the transition to online shopping has only intensified. Live shopping could become a retail tenet, especially when combined with the reach and excitement of influencers.
Hélène Heath shows mascara in one of her shop loop videos.
Amjadi says 40,000 people signed up when makeup YouTuber Nikita Dragun hosted a live shopping event on Instagram. Five thousand items have been placed in shopping carts across the segment, she says. And the sales were all a boon to Dragun as they only sold their own branded products.
"There is a great latent demand for brands and products from people that you look up to and want to emulate," says Amjadi. “However, creators can appear in multiple functions on Instagram. They can appear in marketing or sales capacity, and often do both. "
Influencers who don't sell their own products can make money with affiliate links, depending on the platform. Amazon accepts affiliate links for its live events, while Instagram requires brands to register with Facebook before going live. Currently, only brands can make money on Instagram, and Facebook will receive part of the transaction.
Crucial to the success of live shopping is that influencers have already won the trust and admiration of their followers, says Lauren Beitelspacher, associate professor of marketing at Babson College, making them perfect salespeople.
"This live influencer shopping is basically like shopping with a friend or someone you really strive for," she says. "I see this trend only escalating."
Creators need to strike a balance between "sounding like a friend" and "trying to get your audience to buy".
Communication between streamers and viewers is an essential part of live shopping. As with Stevenné's Stream, viewers can ask questions to learn more. Facebook emphasizes the interaction aspect of live shopping in its best practice guide. If you reply to everyone who makes DMs or comments, you can “win new customers,” the guide says.
However, not every creator has had great success yet. Google hired Hélène Heath to create beauty content for the Shoploop launch, but Heath didn't make any money off the affiliate links she included in her nine videos. She also hasn't made videos since that first deal ended. Stevenné says that thanks to her success with Amazon's live shopping service, she was able to focus on full-time influencing, but she still has to buy all of the products herself in hopes of getting the money back from the sale. Heath continues to sell products on her Instagram through traditional branded posts and affiliate links to products.
"There's definitely a balance between sounding like a friend who is really in love with the products and trying to get your audience to buy them so you can make some money from them," says Heath.
Once every influencer goes live, the product marketing rush likely won't stop.