Since Taobao launched in China in 2016, live commerce has been touted as the next big thing in commerce. Shoppable livestreams, hosted by personable influencers, with eye-watering reported conversion rates - what’s not to love. However, it’s been slow to catch on outside of China, but platforms like Amazon, Instagram, TikTok and Shopify have been upping their offerings and more brands in Europe and the Americas are playing around in the space.
However, as current and exciting as the live commerce trend is, the comparison with traditional teleshopping channels is irresistible. After all, it’s always amusing to see a new generation reinvent the wheel and brand it a breakthrough. But aside from tongue-in-cheek jokes, it can be instructive to learn from similarities and differences between live commerce and QVC-style TV shows.
The most obvious difference is, of course, is platform. It’s not simply the case that teleshopping and live commerce largely play out on different screens - TVs versus mobile devices - there’s a whole different context. Connie Ho is head of strategy and planning at R/GA Shanghai and has extensive experience in the home of live commerce, China, and she says the contexts couldn’t be more different.
“The internet ecosystem is the biggest difference. TV shopping is a simple sales channel, but live commerce is based on a closed loop of network ecosystem. Its advantages include that it connects online shopping, watching and buying, while generating social buzz, and integrating entertainment, shopping, exploration, and social interaction altogether. You can watch it with your mobile phone anytime, anywhere, and it is an action that can be done using fragmented time,” says Connie, adding, “An influencer’s charisma can spark an emotional factor, and viewers aren’t just paying attention to one single item.”
While there are similarities, for one thing, Chloe Cox, social strategy and insights consultant at Wunderman Thompson, argues that live commerce allows brands more effective targeting than TV shopping.
“Live streaming is similar to traditional, late-night TV shopping channels. But it enables much greater accessibility and granular audience targeting, capturing consumers’ interest on the channels that they are spending the majority of their time, rather than the select few that specifically tune into these TV shopping channels,” says Chloe. “Most brands, globally, are seeing the benefits of live streaming, in part because of the creativity, entertainment value and influencer culture it enables, which is something that has been tricky to monetise in the past.”
Meanwhile Debbie Ellison, global chief digital officer for VMLY&R Commerce sees live commerce as democratic, interactive and dynamic where the traditional teleshopping experience is glitzy, controlled and a bit staid. That being said, teleshopping channels have developed into mega empires for a reason. They must be getting something right - and Debbie thinks there is something we can learn from their success.
“What we can learn from TV shopping channels like QVC is that the presenters are experts at helping the audience visualise how a product can fit into their lives, making products feel both useful and essential,” says Debbie. “They also leverage classic behavioural economic tactics like creating a sense of urgency by letting viewers know there is a limited supply and demand is high. These types of tactics can and should be applied directly to social commerce.”
One of the most surprising differences between a traditional TV shopping set up and an ecommerce live shopping project are the different production skills. Whereas one might imagine live broadcast experience would stand you in good stead for live commerce, Connie Ho, points out that there’s a significant operational difference.
“The ecommerce live streaming team is different from the TV shopping production team, their personnel structure and work scope are different too,’ says Connie. “The staff of TV shopping is more about managing on-site equipment (more fixed); the team of live commerce is more about the assistance and management of the data platform (more flexible). If it involves ‘private traffic’ management, a background operation team is also required.”
The best live commerce is nothing like teleshopping, but, argues Adrian Whitehouse, VP solutions EMEA at MediaMonks, there are too many brands that seem to be wedded to the old-fashioned model.
“It all comes down to execution on the platform of choice. TaoBao is genuinely different, partly because of the investment and innovation which has gone into making it a gamified, entertaining, and engaging experience for shoppers, and partly because of the huge market in China which massively increases the overall revenue opportunity. Even capturing the attention of a small percentage of people in the biggest single market on Earth is going to drive respectable revenues, but TaoBao have clearly worked incredibly hard to understand audiences and what drives engagement and purchase,” says Adrian. “A lot of the live commerce experiences that I’ve seen in the US and Europe look a lot more like QVC, and TaoBao is definitely much more than just ‘Chinese QVC’.”
But if that sounds like a bit of a downer on live commerce executions in Europe and North America, it also means there’s still a huge scope for brands to race ahead with creative, innovative ideas.
“This means that there is an opportunity for brands to collaborate with partners such as Amazon to create their own successful live commerce channels or launches,” says Adrian. “Considering the evolution of web3 and the metaverse, there are a lot of exciting opportunities to make your mark and own the whitespace that’s opening up.”
Taylor Siegel, global commerce strategy and partnerships at MRM Commerce, though, thinks the reinvented wheel could go full circle. With all the innovations that platforms and influencers could bring to the space, TV channels may well find themselves inspired to mix things up. And if younger consumers become switched onto the experience of buying live, they may well be more open minded about shopping via TV.
“Live Shopping is going to come back to TV in a big way, with new technology to enhance the checkout experience. NBCUniversal has already debuted their shoppable TV experience for shows beyond the traditional QVC/HSN programming. Companies such as FAST and Take AI are also innovating in the space, working on ways for consumers to shop TV programs from Housewives to the News.”
So perhaps rather than urging live commerce pioneers to learn from teleshopping of yesteryear, we may well see broadcasters try to bring live commerce innovations to their channels.
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