Sector trends

Live-stream shopping: fad or the future of retail?

More and more UK businesses are using live commerce to connect with consumers and sell products.

What is live-stream shopping?

Retailers and brands use live video on apps and websites to share products, answer questions, and ultimately sell goods to the people who join them online to watch, offer feedback and make purchases. 

The aim is to monetise consumer attention during a sales window, with a host or expert demonstrating how to use a product during a live broadcast. 

Also known as live shopping, live commerce or shoppable live streaming, it has been steadily gaining traction with retailers in the US and Europe, accelerated in 2021 by the impact of the pandemic. 

In China, internet users have been purchasing goods this way for a few years longer, via live broadcasts that link directly to product web pages. In 2019, a sales event on the Chinese online marketplace Taobao featured an eight-hour live stream with popular social media influencer Viya. It reportedly attracted more than 43 million customers. 

Data firm Mediatel forecasts that by 2023, live shopping in the UK will be worth $3.3bn (£2.4bn). As an omnichannel approach fast becomes the new normal, the opportunities could be vast.

“Only a few years ago the concept of live-stream shopping felt like an anachronism to many, harking back to the days of ‘teleshopping’ before online shopping became the consumer norm,” says David Scott, Head of Retail and Leisure at NatWest. “However, in recent years we have seen this concept reinvented.

“The growth of TikTok during the pandemic engendered a rise in influencer marketing, frequently in the form of promotional live streams. Unlike the teleshopping monologues of the early 2000s, these live streams aim to maximise consumer interaction with a live comments section, facilitating exchanges between the consumer and their favourite influencer. 

“Influencers leverage their hundreds of millions of followers when marketing a product, and, with the ever-growing prominence of influencer culture, we believe this marketing strategy will continue to prosper across an increasingly digital consumer landscape.”

Where can you host a live shopping event?

There are currently three main options:

  • social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram with built-in shopping capabilities

  • ⁠dedicated live shopping platforms

  • ⁠hosting a live shopping event on your own website

In November 2021, for example, toy retailer Hasbro broadcast its first live-stream shopping event across its Instagram account, its Facebook Live page and a Hasbro microsite, where viewers could browse and purchase items directly from shoppable tags during the event. 

Last year, Clarks Shoes adopted shoppable video powered by London-based live-stream and video platform Smartzer. Its first live-stream shopping event was hosted by model and influencer Nià Pettitt, enabling users to browse and purchase shoes without leaving Instagram.

And, more recently, on 28 January, M&S announced the launch of its own live shopping experience on its website. Customers can join a live broadcast hosted by an M&S expert, find out more about the ranges they are browsing, ask questions through the live chat function, view product demonstrations, and buy the products as they watch.

Why is live commerce taking off now?

According to Top Retail and Leisure Trends for 2022, the new report from NatWest and Retail Economics, the global number of consumers purchasing goods online is forecast to rise. 

The pandemic has permanently changed shopping behaviour as consumers look for convenience, connection, participation and authenticity. And the industry is now entering the third stage of its restructure: innovation. Live-stream shopping could be one way for retailers to stay ahead of the competition.

With the ever-growing prominence of influencer culture, we believe this marketing strategy will continue to prosper across an increasingly digital consumer landscape

David Scott
Head of Retail and Leisure, NatWest

“The future of retail is increasingly impacted by the prevalence of working from home and the pandemic,” says David. “These factors have increased the need for convenience and efficiency when shopping online. 

“As consumers move en masse to a digital-focused purchasing routine, customers are increasingly favouring home delivery of goods as opposed to in-store collection. Online shopping allows consumers to browse, compare and research goods within a matter of minutes, whereas physically going into multiple stores could take hours before a purchase is made. 

“The increasing use of social media apps to purchase products means that creators can generate new methods of selling their products. We are likely to see an increasing number of apps integrate social media and commerce into a singular platform with the likes of TikTok, Depop and Instagram already progressing this trend.”

What are the benefits of live-stream shopping?

  • Customers get to ask questions and engage with the brand and each other in real time.

  • Experiential video content can demonstrate a product much better than a static photo.

  • The link to the product is in the video so it makes it easier to shop.

  • Retailers have access to those customers who may not be near a physical store. 

  • Streams can be set up on a routine basis and do not require the production costs of creating large-scale, edited video campaigns.

What content should I host?

Social commerce is driven by content. You will need to produce a lot of short videos across different channels and renew it quickly.

Which platform do I choose?

Identify platforms or specialists that can help you reach your customers. A mature platform with built-in live-stream shopping features might be most suitable for retailers trying it for the first time. 

If you decide to host on your own site, there’s a growing pool of tech firms that offer services to help schedule and host events with integrated shopping capabilities. 

Which products do I promote?

Take price into account. People might not purchase big-ticket items on social channels until the medium is more established. Identify products that would be particularly suitable for your selling channel.

Who should host the event?

Find specialists within your business with the product knowledge and the ability to encourage audiences to make a purchase. It’s about personality as well as expertise. The audience must be hooked and kept hooked to make a purchase.

What are the challenges?

Consider functionality: live shopping has to be seamless and effortless. There are no retakes and edits, which leaves no room for mistakes. 

Think about scheduling and resource: it requires smart planning.

Live-stream shopping only works if you can attract a large enough audience. You therefore need to know how to generate hype, for example through limited-edition releases, time-specific discounts, special promotions or access to specialists. 

Know your audience: who are they, what matters to them, how do you gain their attention?

What next for retailers?

“We have a responsibility to ensure everything we do is beneficial and appropriate for consumers,” says David. 

“The social-norm online age is rapidly becoming younger as technology becomes a larger part of the family lifestyle. This can become a challenge as younger audiences are more susceptible to being persuaded into purchasing goods from their favourite influencers and are unlikely to consider the need for the product. Having an impressionable audience places responsibility on the advertiser to specify whether any posts or live streams have been produced for advertising purchases. 

“On the other hand, if a business has a target market who are unfamiliar with and untrusting of the digital world, they may lose the loyalty and sales of these customers. There are still generations of consumers who do not participate in online banking or online shopping simply because they do not trust having their personal details online. 

“These customers are likely to wish to be physically present when making a sale and having the goods to walk away with there and then as opposed to waiting for the delivery of their products.” 

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top