The social (selling) network

By Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo

 In the world of live selling, e-commerce becomes a social experience, a welcome development for shopaholics in lockdown. A seller sets up a livestream—an online broadcast—and transacts with buyers in real time via chat and other features, depending on the platform they’re using. Online shopping break outs of the rigidity of a website page and turns into a fun interactive video event. 

“Given the current effects of the pandemic, … there is indeed a need to fill and digitally capture that social and relationship building aspect of the shopping experience,” said Samantha Rodriguez-Tung, senior vice president for eCommerce at Kumu, a livestreaming application.  

The presence of other buyers watching the broadcast is reassuring since they act as fellow witnesses to the quality of the products and the selling process itself.

“There’s social proof when you are broadcasting… because other people can comment and you can see your friends also commenting,” said Irene Chan, marketing manager of BeLive, a livestreaming platform for e-commerce retailers, influencers, small business owners, and content creators, in an interview with BusinessWorld.

Buyers—who usually belong to a brand’s established customer base or an e-commerce marketplace—can communicate with other participants in the comments, asking for more details or sharing their thoughts about the products. 

Daniel Mayer, chief executive officer and co-founder of BeLive, shared that broadcast in June by one of their partners, e-commerce platform Fingo Thailand, hit over 11,000 concurrent live views and more than 11,000 comments. Another partner, beauty brand Beautéderm, hosted a livestream in July with Filipino celebrities Darren Espanto, Camille Pratts, and Darla Sauler. It generated over 20,000 comments.

For many people, live selling has also become a form of entertainment. A good host can quickly become an influencer, creating a community of ardent followers. There’s Austin Li, a Chinese livestreaming personality who first became famous for selling 15,000 lipsticks in five minutes in 2018. In his broadcasts, Li chats with his viewers while trying on shade after shade on his lips in record time. These broadcasts have cemented his celebrity status over the years: he has around 40 million followers on Douyin, China’s equivalent of TikTok.

For shopKUMU, an upcoming “shoppertainment” or shopping entertainment platform by Kumu, livestreams will be hosted by celebrities like Bela Padilla and Ces Drilon. Homegrown Kumu talents like PrimaClara and Apple Chiu, who all have their own respective following, will also be featured.

Live selling even has the potential of transporting people to other places through its livestreams and products. When COVID-19 endangered the livelihood of fishermen from Zhejiang province in China, the local government held a broadcast at sea in partnership with Taobao Live, the live selling segment of the e-commerce company. They captured the first fishing ceremony of the year and hired chefs to cook dishes from the day’s catch. Buyers could then buy these fresh fish during the broadcast. 

The potential of live selling is the stuff of dreams for many sellers, especially in markets like China where it is massively popular. Red Dragonfly, a Chinese shoe retailer, experienced a 114% year-on-year sales boost in its flagship stores during a livestream in March of this year. In 2019, Viya Huang, another Chinese livestreaming celebrity with a loyal following, sold out 15,000 bottles of Kim Kardashian-West’s perfume within minutes.

The practice is also picking up in other parts of Asia. Lazada reported that the gross merchandise volume (GMV) generated through LazLive increased by 45% month-on-month in April. In Thailand, a Shiseido LazLive broadcast garnered 90,000 viewers and generated 40 times GMV uplift compared to a non-livestreaming hour.

 While live selling may be especially popular now, Mr. Mayer believes that it will outlast the pandemic because sellers will need as many revenue channels as possible. It also provides a convenient form of retail that is much more interactive than other alternatives.

 “Live [selling] allows retailers to meet their customers where they are and sell their products in a friendly and intuitive way… While it’s hard to replace the energy of face-to-face interaction, livestreaming offers businesses an avenue to continue making an income in an authentic way even during periods of sheltering-at-home,” said Mr. Mayer.

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