The pandemic that we are all living through has led to some unexpected outcomes: we now all walk miles on the weekend and our social contact is often limited to video calls. Perhaps the most unexpected outcome; however, is the number of millennials who now find themselves – despite their best efforts –downloading TikTok and spending an inordinate amount of time scrolling through the endless feed of content.
Many of the ‘lifestyle’-based social networks, like Facebook and Instagram, find themselves lacking content that really connects users with friends, as many people have nothing exciting to post about. Feeds are filled either with influencers living it up in Dubai and risking damage to their reputation, or of the same walks around the same parks day-to-day. But we’ve become so conditioned to filling those little gaps in time with the consumption of content. Having spent a year glued to screens for work, and many personal activities, this has made us even more dependent on our phones and tablets. Enter TikTok.
TikTok as a catalyst
It’s a social network that’s incredibly popular with the Gen-Z generation (60% of its users are Gen-Z), and last year, with little else to do, I downloaded it to understand what sort of content and format resonated with them. The content was varied enough with a mix of different content that kept me scrolling through the algorithmic ‘for you’ page.
One key feature; however, is that TikTok isn’t just a platform for pre-recorded videos: it also offers livestreaming. Some people play live music, others do giveaways, and some just spend time with their audience, answering questions and having fun.
However, I quickly found that people used the livestreaming feature to essentially video call with their friends like on any other platform. The twist here is that there’s an audience. They aren’t engaging with their audience, but instead purely focus on the slightly voyeuristic conversation with each other.
And it’s for this reason that I think we’ll see an increase in livestreaming as a platform for engagement between brands and consumers. There is a generation of people growing up in a world where livestreaming is as normal as texting is to millennials. This generation will come to expect the same real-time engagement they have with their friends, with the brands and retailers they choose, as part of their lifestyle curation.
The big business of livestreaming
Livestream shopping is still in its infancy in countries like the UK and the USA. In China; however, it’s a booming industry. More than 100 million viewers in China watch a live online video event every month, according to Gartner. Consulting firm, Frost & Sullivan, estimate that over $400bn of products will be sold through this type of channel in China by 2022. Taobao, China’s largest online marketplace, predicts that livestreaming will provide them with over 500bn transactions between 2018 and 2021. In total, a mere 81 influencers generated $15m+ in sales through live streaming in 2018.
A high proportion of viewers and shoppers who partake in live stream shopping in China are likely from second or third tier cities, given their existing contribution to online shopping in China. In these areas, where such a broad range of retail stores, malls and available brands doesn’t exist, they’re perhaps less likely to have access to, or visibility of the latest fashion, beauty and wellbeing trends. Livestream shopping is a way for them to interact with people they look up to (influencers or Key Opinion Leaders/KOLs), and have more of a two-way dialogue with that person to understand more about a product. It’s very much educational, which in the western world there is arguably less of a demand for. In the UK, consumer culture is so prolific that we are practically raised by it, and so the need for livestream shopping is perhaps less around education, but in my opinion about confidence and trust.
Livestreaming confidence to consumers
In a world where customers have no opportunity to see products in real life, where many people may be less comfortable or bothered to deal with returns, and perhaps even where customers are more conscious of their consumption habits, and are being more considerate about how much or what they buy; confidence and trust is an important element of online shopping.
There have been many stories about influencers posting sponsored or branded content on social media without appropriate disclaimers or #ad messaging, leading consumers to question whether the individual truly endorses a product when they don’t really have any opinion, or worse have a negative opinion. Research from media agency UM found that; “many internet users lack confidence in what they see and read online, with only 8% believing that the bulk of information shared on social media is true, dropping to 4% when it comes from influencers”.
Viewing products on a catwalk, or held in the hand of a model who is hosting the live stream provides consumers with more information than a traditional eCommerce site ever could: how do the colours look in different lights and through a camera, how do the materials flow or move, what size is the piece in relation to the model’s body, and so on. It provides far more of the in-store experience and expert advice than eCommerce and other social shopping channels ever could.
Brands who take control of the messaging around their products and provide real, live storytelling can leverage an opportunity to engage with customers, build confidence by answering questions and discussing the products.
Western brands and the future
Some brands from Europe and the USA have started experimenting with livestream shopping, albeit still in a limited capacity – and many using influencers on apps like TikTok, like Walmart did in December 2020 for their ‘Holiday Shop-along Spectacular’. Some are focusing on the already captivated Chinese market, such as Rude Health through their partnership with Tmall Global, which launched earlier this year.
Others are taking a more focused approach in the west. H&M subsidiary brand Monki starting livestreaming fashion events in late 2019 with a view of taking “community co-creation one step further”. Harvey Nichols also began running livestream events in 2018 and saw an increase in use of 739% between 2019 and 2020. They also found that consumers were 21 times more likely to shop from the retailer when using these social engagement channels than if they were using a traditional e-commerce channel.
From generation-Z to millennials and me
For me, as a 31-year old millennial, I find myself more intrigued by the notion of livestream shopping. I watch people on TikTok on their livestreams, captivated by just how comfortable and commonplace it seems for them to be operating in this way, and increasingly so with other generations. Spend a bit of time on there and you’ll find plenty of viral millennial, gen-Y and baby boomer stars who are making a name for themselves on the platform. It might not be too long before you yourself are chatting to someone across the world about an item, that could end up in your basket.
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