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A sign of the times: Is live shopping the future of retail?

Chloe Burney
07 May 2024

The allure of live shopping has taken the consumer world by storm in recent years. The retail phenomenon arrived in the UK during the pandemic with major players such as Fatface, Very and Harvey Nichols introducing livestream shopping. So, what is it and how can more retailers benefit from implementing it now?

Live shopping brings personal shopping to the masses via social media. Think QVC on steroids. It first cropped up in Asia in 2016 and later gained traction in the West during the Covid-19 pandemic. But is it still relevant post-pandemic and what can retailers gain from introducing this commerce channel?

In recent years, major retailers have jumped on the live shopping bandwagon. eBay LIVE was launched last week, for example. Though impeccably shot product images offer a portal for shoppers to explore online, live shopping offers a personal connection that these glossy images lack.

While the UK’s live shopping offering is still in its infancy, the retail sector's growth is predicted to hit £5 billion by 2025, according to Sprii.

For Daniel Fisher, UK General Manager of livestream shopping platform Whatnot, it's all about a sense of excitement and community. He told "Livestream shopping is materially changing the way people shop. It is incredibly engaging because it replicates the best of a personalised in-store experience, where you can directly engage with a passionate seller and see a product being held or used.

"The fusion of community and e-commerce has proved to be successful for Whatnot because it brings the fun, personalised way to shop, with real people showing you products."

Whatnot launched its fashion category in the UK in November 2023, which has since grown by 500%. The fashion category is growing by approximately 60% month-on-month.

The company recently published a report that revealed Britons are willing to spend up to 24% more when buying via livestream shopping versus any other online shopping experience. 38% are already streaming, selling and buying through live shopping. It's important to note that almost 8 in 10 (78%) of consumers aged 18-29 believe Livestream is ‘the future of shopping’.

"For the new and next generations, livestream shopping offers a digital hybrid shopping experience, where you get curated in-store customer service with a community of like-minded buyers. 62% of Brits believe livestream shopping to be the future of shopping, rising to 8 in 10 of Gen Z shoppers (age 18 -29)", said Fisher.

Daniel Fisher, UK General Manager of Whatnot

It's almost as though we’ve gone backwards. From brick-and-mortar to online shopping, now customers want to dip their toes back into the early 2000s world of retail. Though we haven’t yet invented teleporting live shopping is the next best thing, wooing Gen Zers by offering an in-person shopping experience from the comfort of home.

Last week, eBay launched its live shopping channel, allowing shoppers to browse exclusive pre-loved fashion in real-time. Kirsty Keoghan, General Manager of Global Fashion at eBay, told that they're "testing the format" over the next few months and to "expect to see fantastic UK sellers hosting dedicated episodes".

She added: "With eBay Live, selected sellers can host fun and interactive episodes, offering shoppers a fresh and exciting way to discover and purchase unique items from anywhere they want.

"We’ve seen great success with eBay Live in the US since its launch in 2022, with hundreds of live events hosted weekly and new customers heading to the platform to participate.

"eBay Live is a chance for us to showcase preloved in a whole new and dynamic way, targeting customers who are used to finding their fashion inspiration in a video or live format, while also providing the opportunity to get a better feel for the condition of the clothes – which we hope will encourage more and more people to choose preloved."

Kirsty Keoghan, General Manager of Global Fashion at eBay

Fisher agreed three that live shopping needs to be engaging and "dynamic". For him, the key factors that must come together to create successful live shopping are "passion" for the products being sold,  a "fun and entertaining" livestream and "consistency" to build a loyal following.

"This doesn’t mean Hollywood-grade production values - quite the contrary - it means being creative with formats, engaging with your audience and having fun with it", he added.

Back in 2018, Harvey Nichols was the first British luxury department store to offer "Live Shopping" online after signing an exclusive partnership with retail technology company, Hero. It took a few years for the British high street to follow suit, with Very and Marks & Spencer launching their live shopping channels in 2022.

Though an early adopter, Harvey Nichols no longer provides the service, however, Very offers a once-a-month live series and M&S continues to host live shopping where customers can pop their "questions in the live chat and shop as you watch using handy live links". M&S' website ensures they have "lots of exciting events planned" for more live shopping content on the way.

With successful trials in the bag, this leaves us to ponder if live shopping is the future of retail. We’ve been back and forth between the world of e-commerce and physical retail for quite some time now, but if this has made one thing clear – neither is going anywhere. Similarly, industry leaders don’t anticipate live shopping as a replacement for physical stores, rather they’re a tool used to entice viewers to visit stores after discovering them online.

The one thing that live shopping promises to achieve is brand exposure. This omnichannel approach is sure to see retailers reap economic rewards. Think of it this way, television did not replace cinemas. In the same vein, live shopping won’t replace conventional retail, they work in a symbiotic relationship.

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