Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

Going Live – why live commerce could be the next big thing for social commerce  

By Jim Herbert, SVP, GM for EMEA, BigCommerce

Since the pandemic, ecommerce has exploded and no sector has embodied this growth more than social commerce, which allows consumers to complete the entire sales journey within the social media platform, from discovery to checkout. The pace of innovation is reflected by growth projections, with Accenture expecting total social commerce-based sales to more than double to 1.2 trillion by 2025

Doubling in three years is certainly impressive. But this pales in comparison to the growth of live commerce, which saw a compound annual growth rate of 280% in China, its most mature market, between 2017 and 2020. Social commerce evolves in response to broader social media trends. So the fact that 2019 saw a 93% rise in total time spent live streaming in just one year makes it a channel retailers and marketers are watching closely to explore its potential. 

The social connection

To understand the potential of live commerce, it is important to look at the drivers behind social commerce’s growth more generally. Social media is where users go to curate what they want to see: their friends, their passions, their news sources and their favourite influencers.

By engaging customers in a space users curated, brands can cultivate more natural relationships and discovery. Instead of an impersonal, inert advert, users might see an influencer they choose to follow who is selling a product aligned to their interests.

Instead of choosing to directly visit a retailer online store, the user might follow them to naturally see what’s new. Additionally, the data-driven targeting of these platforms ensures users see genuinely relevant products, particularly amongst young consumers. A staggering 97% of Gen Z use social media as their top source of shopping inspiration, whilst an increased desire for ‘authenticity’ makes relatable influencer-based commerce significantly powerful. As this generation develops, and their purchasing power grows, it will become even more important to prioritise social commerce. 

The advantages of social commerce are also true for live commerce. It overwhelmingly skews young, with 78.4% of Twitch viewers under the age of 30. Perceived authenticity is what makes influencer marketing so powerful, and viewers also see this authenticity in their favourite streamers. With attention typically secured for longer periods, the opportunity to capture attention and build relationships is unrivalled even by social media, where posts may only be viewed for seconds. 

Going live

To understand the potential of the space, we can look to China, where the practice is established. In 2016, Alibaba’s ‘Taobao live’ pioneered the space, by providing a live event in which consumers could view exclusive products and deals. In just four years, it became a phenomenon, growing 280% year-on-year, and was capped by the annual ‘Singles’ Day’ live sales event generating $7.5 billion in just 30 minutes. In 2022, the Chinese live commerce market is projected to account for a staggering $300 billion of sales. 

The west is earlier in its journey, but there are encouraging signs that this growth could be emulated, with the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Nordstrom, and Clarins being early adopters. As an early-stage space, performance data is hard to come by, but if the success of the technique in China is any indication, the potential gains for early adopters are profound. Early adopters are beginning to capitalise on the unique affordances of live commerce — the ability to answer questions and demonstrate features of a product in real-time gives consumers confidence and adds another layer of personalisation. In an online shopping environment where the personal touch of in-person shopping can lack, live streaming can bridge the gap and deliver enhanced shopping experiences that are expected. 

In addition, live commerce can be just as beneficial for smaller retailers as it is for major brands. Just as trusted social media ‘micro-influencers’ help get niche products in front of a small number of dedicated enthusiasts, the same principle applies to live commerce. For instance, the popular hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt encapsulates the relationship between creators and consumption, which means formalising purchases within the app is only natural. Just last year, TikTok launched live shopping features in the UK. All this contributes to a live sales space that recent research suggests could account for $35 billion in sales in the US by 2024.

Seizing the opportunity

The potential is clear. But as with any sales channel, it won’t be right for everyone. In terms of product, the visual focus of livestreaming commerce can inform whether it is worth the investment. Apparel and cosmetics could benefit most from a live commerce strategy due to their visual nature, and the potential for demonstrations. But with longer viewing times and streamers catering to increasingly specialised topics, physical goods and appliances could also benefit strongly from association with the right influencer. 

The key is to remain open to the possibilities, and work with an ecommerce platform which allows the quick implementation of new channels. But when implementing new channels, it is important that this doesn’t lead to fragmentation. To achieve this, retailers should consider an omnichannel approach to provide a seamless shopping experience from the first touchpoint to the last, regardless of the channel your customer is using. This also allows you to meet customers where they are. People are engaging with retailers through an ever-increasing number of channels, and providing a consistent, personalised experience between these is key.

In conclusion, as social commerce continues to evolve, brands will need to quickly adopt and adapt to new features and functionalities which will be key to staying relevant and competitive. Social media trends move fast, so retailers should ensure their ecommerce platform moves fast too.

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