A Comprehensive Guide to Live Stream Shopping

This year, as stay at home orders were extended, and retail outlets, for the most part, remained shuttered, many of us have turned to online shopping to procure everything from the most basic necessities to luxury items. This increase in traffic has resulted in a boom to the eCommerce industry. 

And as the global pandemic continues, eCommerce has become a saving grace for retailers, and a rare outlet for those confined to their living spaces. According to Digital Commerce 360, this trend has seen eCommerce sales rise by 30% from 2019 to 2020, a pattern that looks to continue well into the future. 

But what does that future look like? As revolutionary as eCommerce and its mobile offshoot, mCommerce (mobile commerce), have been, they don’t come close to replicating the retail shopping experience. 

The interaction just isn’t there, the connectivity, the feeling of discovery. This is something livestream shopping looks to rectify. 

Important Takeaways:

  • eCommerce has grown by 30% in the past year.
  • China is currently the global leader in eCommerce and livestream shopping.
  • Revenue generated by livestream shopping is expected to reach 170 billion dollars in China by the end of this year.
  • Livestream shopping presents a good opportunity for brands and micro-influencers to work together and generate high levels of user engagement.
  • It also adds a more experiential and exciting element to online shopping, letting users interact directly with the streams host through comments.
  • Gives users real-time insights into the products they buy when compared to traditional online shopping.
  • Already established in China, major platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Amazon have added Livestream shopping services to their apps.

A Comprehensive Guide to Live Streaming Shopping:

What Is Livestream Shopping?

Livestream shopping is an emerging trend that combines livestreaming, a feature that can be found on a majority of social media platforms, with the ability to purchase products directly from the livestream. In this way, it provides consumers with a more engaging experience than just clicking and filling a virtual shopping cart. 

Livestream shopping also capitalizes on the inherent interactivity of social media. As viewers tune in, comments flash across the screen. 

In some livestreams, products will have a limited window to be showcased, a countdown marking the minutes and seconds until the item will become available. When it does, viewers can watch the availability tick down in real time. 

In others, audience members can be awarded discounts for purchasing products during a certain window. In both cases, livestream shopping is more than just an extension of eCommerce. It brings a level of excitement and spontaneity, all while fostering a sense of connection not possible with traditional online retail.

Similarly to in-person shopping, prospective buyers can interact with the host via comments. They can ask questions about the products being showcased, request to see the inside or different angles of certain items, ask about size or feel. 

This level of interaction between consumers and livestream hosts creates a more dynamic environment.

An example of a livestream shopping event in China on Alibaba

What We Can Learn From China 

With items selling out in a matter of seconds, live shopping can be a lucrative venture for those involved. For this reason, many brands are looking to livestream shopping as an opportunity to strengthen their eCommerce offering. 

However, at the moment, livestream shopping is still in its infancy in the Americas and Europe. This has left brands from these regions looking towards the eCommerce giant that is China to inform their forays into livestream shopping.  

CNNBusiness reports that In 2019, the livestream ecommerce revenue from China alone accounted for 66 billion dollars. By the end of 2020 this number is expected to grow 170 billion dollars, according to the business news outlet. 

But why is China so uniquely positioned to take advantage of this trend whereas social media and eCommerce giants such as Instagram and Amazon are currently still in the rollout stages of their live shopping offerings?

The answer is in the way in which Chinese social media platforms are set up.

The Rise of the Super Apps 

Platforms like Taobao, owned by Alibaba, and WeChat function as both hybrids of social media and eCommerce platforms, essentially offering users a plethora of services from microblogging, messaging and online shopping, all in one experience. 

This interconnected economy of services means that live stream shopping is simply an extension of the existing model, taking advantage of services that are already in place. 

In the West, apps like Instagram and Facebook began to integrate marketplaces into their experiences only in the previous year But in China, the super app model has been integral to the appeal of their mobile first market for years. 

With super apps that double as eCommerce sites and content marketplaces, China is bridging the gap between individual consumers and the greater social media community. Livestream shopping is simply a natural evolution of this model. 

However, just banking on a built-in audience isn’t enough to pull in viewers and, by extension, serious shoppers. For brands looking to make the most of their live stream ventures, there are a number of different factors that play a role in putting on a successful event. And picking the right influencers is one of the most important.  

The Relationship Between Content and Commerce 

As the host of the event, influencers, or key opinion leaders as they are known in China, are essentially the heart of livestream shopping. While big names in the influencer world such as Kim Kardashian have recently hosted events, having a million followers doesn’t necessarily equate to being a good host. 

As livestream shopping evolves, much like the greater influencer marketing industry, micro-influencers are very much in demand. And for good reason. 

Micro-influencers typically boast much higher engagement rates than their high-tier counterparts. This is due to the personal relationship they cultivate with their much smaller followings through more personalized content. 

This kind of authenticity and genuine connection is paramount when it comes to livestream shopping. 

The Right Influencer Matters 

Because brands pay livestream hosts to be featured, and these hosts take a commission on each item sold, choosing which influencers to invest in, an important step in any influencer marketing campaign, becomes even more crucial in livestream shopping. 

Studies show that friends and family are still the most trusted sources when it comes to making purchasing decisions, with consumers more likely to buy a product they have experienced.  Up against this kind of scrutiny, it is important  for brands to select a host with a proven following and high engagement rates, and up to the influencer to promote the event and highlight products that will resonate with their base. 

Micro-influencers check off these two boxes. Because their followings are smaller, they tend to have more targeted insights into the kind of content or products their audience is looking for. 

The greater intimacy that defines the relationship means that they are more likely to have followers tune into the livestream. 

Hard Work and ROI 

But while the best livestream hosts boast higher engagement rates, putting on a good event takes more than just a name and an engaged following. 

Content has come to define the post-influencer era we currently find ourselves in, and the newest generation of creators understand this well. Maintaining a following has become a balance between creating quality content that resonates with viewers, while adding value to sponsorships. 

Livestream shopping is no different and requires an equal amount of dedication from the hosts.

Planning a livestream event is grueling work, with influencers doing hours of research on the products they will feature, creating an authentic buzz around the event with their following, and sometimes even reaching out individually to followers they know might be interested in certain items. 

All this is done to ensure that the audience remains engaged throughout. The curated content and hosts relationship to the audience  is what drives the commercial aspect of the event. 

And while the behind the scenes aspect may be grueling, and the market competitive, when all these elements come together what you are left with is a virtual event that draws thousands of consumers, fifty or sixty pieces being sold in a second.

It is an approach that combines convenience for the customer with ROI for the brand. 

How It Differs From Home Shopping

But haven’t we seen this type of approach before? After all, home shopping wasl big during the 90’s and early 2000’s, channels like the Home Shopping Network and QVC becoming household names.

So how does livestream shopping differ from its predecessor? 

Well for starters, livestream shopping takes advantage of the full spectrum nature of social media. Whereas at home shopping afforded its viewers a modicum of interaction via call-ins and the like, livestream shopping allows for a more personal interaction between the host and those following. 

Via comments, anyone viewing the stream can ask questions about the product, request to view a different angle and so on and so forth.

Harnessing the Power of Social Media

This sense of community is one of the most important aspects of livestream shopping. Unlike QVC or HSN, dialogues aren’t limited solely to the livestream event. 

Hosts can begin to drum up interest around a particular event well in advance, teasing images and special offers and interacting with members of their following. 

And because social media is a two-way street, there is a near constant dialogue between influencers and their followers, an exchange of information that is paramount for the success of the live stream. 

A good host is able to get a feel for what they should be showcasing based on interactions with their followers . They shouldn’t be expected to showcase anything that doesn’t mesh well with their personal brand. 

This dialogue furthers the loyalty between those who attend the live stream and those who host it, allowing livestream shopping to reach a level of authenticity that QVC fails to match. 

But maybe the most important differentiator is that consumers can take part in a livestream event from anywhere. 

The real-time nature and on-the-go accessibility means brands can get their products in front of a more diverse audience and hear instantaneous feedback.

Retail, Untethered 

With more than half of all online shopping traffic coming via mobile, the convenience that mCommerce affords the user, of being able to access the products they want from anywhere, cannot be underrated. 

With livestream shopping, users can join an event from anywhere, whether that be on the go, on break, or cozy at home in quarantine.

 More importantly, they are not simply filling up a shopping cart, they are joining an experience. 

And while this kind of accessibility is key for consumers, it is equally important for brands looking to expand their audience and raise engagement with their products. 

Rather than relying on top-down advertising or even sponsored posts, a product is featured in a natural way, with the full weight of an influencers platform behind it. 

Diversifying the Experience

A good example of the above is makeup brand NYX. In a live stream hosted by a popular influencer, the brand saw  an opportunity to merge live shopping and makeup tutorials. Users that tuned in for the live make-up tutorial were able to shop the look directly from the stream. 

At the end of the day, livestream shopping allows brands to put the power in the hands of the consumer, affording them options while they participate in something experiential; something they could not get elsewhere or in a traditional retail store. 

The Big Picture

In the aftermath of the global pandemic, our world has moved increasingly online. 

However, livestream shopping shows us that online experiences don’t have to be rote or devoid of connection. Nor do they have to fully replace their physical counterparts.

Livestream shopping is less of an end all solution and more of a companion to retail. It is a tool that forward-thinking brands can utilize to engage new audiences both foreign and domestic, in a space where experimentation is ripe.

It is also a space that is growing.

In August Instagram Live Shopping was made available in the U.S. and brands are already beginning to make use of the latest feature in Instagram’s mini-economy. 

Meanwhile, independent eCommerce streaming solutions like Livescale have begun to emerge as well, offering an alternative to the major players. 

Livestream shopping is changing the relationship between consumers and brands. People who were once passive participants are now active ones, either by hosting the event, or by informing the goods featured. 

For brands looking to connect with their audience in authentic ways, this kind of dialogue is invaluable. And for consumers, the experience it provides bridges the physical and digital worlds

To put it simply: The future of eCommerce is live. 


Maira Genovese is the Founder of MG Empower, a leading global influencer marketing agency. She built her career in Marketing & Digital, working on some of the world’s most-loved brands such as American Express, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry and Value Retail. Since starting her own business MG Empower in 2015, she has counselled leading consumer brands including TikTok, Chopard, Ford, Porsche, Bumble, Biossance, StarzPlay and SnapChat.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Livestream Shopping?

Livestream shopping combines livestreaming with the ability to buy products directly via the livestream. It is an emerging trend that offers consumers a more engaging experience than simply clicking and filling a virtual shopping cart. Similarly to shopping in person, potential shoppers can interact with the host via comments. This way they can ask questions about the product and request to see the product from a different angle.

What is the difference between home shopping and livestream shopping?

Livestream shopping takes advantage of the full spectrum of social media platforms to offer a more personal interaction between the followers and the host. By the means of comments, anyone that views the stream can ask a question about the product. Home shopping, on the other hand, offers more limited interaction (it is mainly call-in based) and takes advantage only of paid cable TV subscriptions.

What are the benefits of livestream shopping?

Livestream shopping enables a brand to put the power in the hands of the consumer. It creates an opportunity for consumers to take part in something experiential that they will not be able to find in traditional retail stores. Also, it allows consumers to join an event from wherever they are. Brands that want to expand their audience and increase engagement with their products should seriously consider livestream shopping.

How do you get the right influencer to host your livestream shopping?

It is key that brands pick hosts that boast high engagement rates and a proven following. Just because an influencer has a million followers does not mean that he/she will make a good host. Micro-influencers are good choices because as their followings are smaller they usually have more targeted insights regarding the type of products or content their audience would find interesting. This better intimacy, level of authenticity and real connection mean that their followers are more inclined to join the livestream event.

What makes a good livestream shopping host?

Good livestream shopping hosts should have a good sense for what they should be displaying based on the interactions with their followers. If a product does not work well with their personal brand, they will not showcase such a product. Good hosts will put in hours of research on the products that they will showcase. Then, they will also start to create interest around a specific event well in advance by teasing images and special offers and interacting with their followers.

About the Author
Nadica Naceva, Head of Content at Influencer Marketing Hub, is a seasoned writer and reviewer with in-depth expertise in digital and content marketing. Leveraging her extensive experience in guiding content creation and strategic direction, Nadica brings a critical eye and analytical approach to reviewing articles and educational pieces. Her commitment to accuracy, integrity, and innovation with each review helps IMH grow as a leading source in influencer marketing. Her insights are backed by first-party data, ensuring content meets the highest standards of relevance.