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2020 has shown to be the year that live-streaming commerce came of age in Asia. In 2021, it will likely become a priority channel for brands across all consumer segments.
Live-streaming has scored scintillating sales growth in China over the past three years. This was confirmed by another record-setting November 11 shopping festival, fondly known as the 11.11 sale, the world’s largest annual online retail event. With more than 250,000 brands participating this year and many using live-stream activations, total sales exceeded USD 74 billion, almost double the 2019 edition.
The format has turned top Chinese live streamers like Viya Huang and Austin Li into wealthy celebrities with tens of millions of fans. Their broadcasts on multiple app platforms generate millions of renminbi and they can transform a product’s market strength.
While the live-streaming phenomenon is made in China, it is gaining momentum in Southeast Asia. This year, as consumers have spent more time browsing and shopping from home, brands are tapping into this powerful sales and engagement channel.
As people become more familiar with the live stream format, its functions are diversifying. Beyond direct sales, it is also being used for brand building, showcasing new experiences and creating gamified interactions with consumers.
Here are six live-streaming trends for businesses to consider in 2021.
Online live-streaming began in China with a simple format. Live vendors stand in front of a bank of lights and smartphones connected to content streaming apps. They sell products through the force of their personalities to their online tribes.
Gradually, the format expanded to include in-stream consumer interactions, product appraisals and emojis. The primary goal, however, remains the same: to maximize sales to young and curious shoppers. The vast size of China’s consumer market and high penetration of smartphone usage are vital factors enabling the rapid expansion of direct live selling. It also benefits from the widespread use of cashless transactions and confidence among consumers to make instant online purchasing decisions.
The major pitch is that live stream personalities can shift huge product volumes in short broadcasts. Supplementing the personality-driven sales presentations is an engaging mix of online shopping deals, in-show entertainment and social media participation.
Selling live and direct to online consumers offers the promise of dynamic sales especially for discounted products. The format also enables brands to experiment with product bundles and added-value promotions that they may not offer on e-marketplaces.
Primarily, brands are dedicating more resources to live-stream because live broadcast vendors are skilled at inspiring a transaction, not just an emotional reaction. Being able to drive instant sales of everything from snacks and handbags to perfumes and fresh fruits distinguishes the value of live streamers compared to key opinion leaders or social media influencers.
Successful live streamers carefully research their product categories and often sell more than 100 selected products per broadcast. With competition intensifying, they source new product lines by celebrities and luxury brands and must-have items from overseas that are either new to the market or not yet widely available. Organic and sustainable products that consumers feel good about buying are also popular.
The raw, volume-driven sales format that has wowed Chinese consumers may be stylistically altered to suit each campaign. Marketplaces in Southeast Asia like Shopee enable shoppers to receive an automatic alert when a brand they follow begins a live stream.
These presentations vary in style and substance. Brand sellers or show hosts often sit behind a table or in a studio setting. Occasionally, this resembles an update of the home shopping channel formats often seen on cable TV networks.
Similar sales tactics are adopted, with close-up views and discussions of featured products, which may be offered at an introductory price or group-buying discount. Some brands set up live-streaming studios inside their stores, while others deploy Zoom-style or green-screen video backdrops.
Live stream formats are likely to evolve and brands will adapt the model to meet their objectives, domestic markets and customer bases. This may result in some companies using a combination of their staff as live stream sellers and hiring professional streamers for high-priority campaigns. During the lockdown in China, for example, some companies incentivized their staff members to create micro live streams to sell products to their social media networks.
Investment in training and development will be necessary. Specific skill sets are needed for live stream broadcasting. Using untrained or inexperienced people may result in low sales optimization and, even worse, critical feedback from online audience members.
As the live-streaming ecosystem continues to grow, live broadcast training, incubator programs and casting sessions are already being offered in China. These initiatives will develop at different speeds across Southeast Asian markets.
A greater volume and range of live-stream showcases means that consumers are becoming spoiled for choice and their attention can easily waiver. In the smaller markets of Southeast Asia where e-wallet usage is still developing, brands may use live-streaming for different purposes throughout the year.
The interactive real-time broadcast format can help build brand positioning, create a viral buzz around new products and reach out to different demographic groups. Showcasing exclusive experiences is another function. Live-streaming to generate immediate sales may focus on the annual online shopping festivals.
China provides strong case studies of brand building and showcasing experiences. During the pandemic, the British Museum integrated live-streaming and eCommerce into a two-hour interactive broadcast for Chinese consumers who want to travel again soon. Hennessy XO teamed with a Chinese pyrotechnic expert to live stream the 150th anniversary fireworks show from the Charent River in France. Shanghai Fashion Week too paired live-streaming with computer-generated animation to bring alive its virtual couture shows.
Facebook is also jumping on the live-streaming bandwagon and launching a new way of interactive shopping called Live Shopping. It allows brands to share product information, demonstrate how to use products, answer any inquiries from Live watchers and respond to them in real time. The beauty of this new feature is that it creates a frictionless purchase journey by allowing Live watchers to make purchases right away without having to go outside the Facebook Live environment.