Three UK retailers pushing livestream shopping to the forefront of ecommerce

“Live selling on social media is the perfect channel to reach our core audience,” said Snug Sofa’s CEO Rob Bridgman after his company became the first direct-to-consumer furniture brand to host a live online event in the UK.

“It’s an opportunity to show off our fantastic sofas, highlight our quick delivery times, engage with our consumers and generate sales,” he said of the inaugural Instagram Live, which was hosted by comedian Katherine Ryan and watched by more than 12,000 people across the UK.

It seems that the livestream shopping trend is finally catching alight in the UK after garnering widespread popularity in the East. The movement originated primarily in China, where influencers are hired by brands to sell goods on ecommerce livestreams to millions of watching consumers.

Chinese ecommerce brands are able to haul in millions in revenue via the online events, with many focused around dedicated sales holidays such as Alibaba‘s Singles’ Day.

One of China’s largest influencers Austin Li Jiaqi – widely referred to as the ‘Lipstick King’ – sold $1.7 billion worth of goods in a 12-hour-livestream in October last year, according to China’s Economic Daily (CED).

The success of the trend in the East has prompted a number of Western retailers to take notice and launch their own livestreaming ecommerce platforms.

The initial question when launching these services in the UK is whether British consumers will take notice, as cultural and commercial trends between East and West are not always closely aligned.

“You can always look to the East for inspiration in retail,” said Jellyfish’s vice president of ecommerce and retail Stephen Warrington.

“Whether it’s livestream shopping or the ubiquitous WeChat where customers can directly purchase food and clothing, China has always had a very profound, ground-breaking approach to merging digital with retailing.”

Livestream shopping in the UK

As livestream shopping begins to gather pace in the UK, consumers are beginning to embrace the new way of buying. Bringing the brand into their homes allows them to create a stronger emotional bond with brands, products and even the personalities doing the selling, whether they are influencers, celebrities or neither.

Charged takes a look at three UK retailers who have chosen to embrace livestream shopping and tap into that direct consumer connection, albeit in very different ways.

M&S.com

Marks and Spencer announced the launch of ‘M&S Live’ earlier this year and has so far broadcast a small number of programmes in order to tap into a growing trend for younger shoppers that’s expected to account for up to 20% of global ecommerce by 2026.

The move comes as part of a move to get the 13.5 million customers that visit M&S.com each week to find out more about the ranges they’re browsing.

The retailer’s first broadcast took place on Friday 28 January and focused on M&S’ leading activewear brand Goodmove.

Livestream viewers are encouraged to write questions in interactive chatbox panel on the side of the screen for the host to answer as they showcase the products. If a customer wishes to purchase any item, shoppable links are placed within the screen to enable a quick checkout.

“Live Shopping on M&S.com is the latest in a wave of new initiatives we’ve introduced to improve our customer experience,” M&S.com director Stephen Langford said at the time.

“It’s a global trend that responds to how customers are using social media – we all know how much more we’re scrolling and engaging with video content – at home, or on the go.”

Snug Sofa

Furniture retailer Snug Sofa recently ran its own livestream quiz show and selling event with comedian Katherine Ryan, which attracted 12,500 virtual viewers – enough to fill Wembley Arena.

The announcement saw more than 30,000 people sign up to the event and drove a record amount of traffic to Snug’s website. The company saw an 160% increase in virtual consultation bookings and around 43,000 comments posted on the stream.

Most importantly, the live event was responsible for an impressive 450% growth in sales.

“Live selling on social media is the perfect channel to reach our core audience, it’s an opportunity to show off our fantastic sofas, highlight our quick delivery times, engage with our consumers and generate sales,” the company’s CEO Rob Bridgman said at the time of the event.

“We’re a challenger brand and it’s in our nature to want to be at the forefront of the next big thing in retail – and we believe live selling is that.”

Ted Baker

Ted Baker ventured into the streaming space last March, kicking off a schedule of regular live shopping events with the first session hosted by DJ and influencer duo Jordan and Loanne Collyer.

Led by retail store experts and in-house employees, the events saw the fashion brand “leveraging talent and influencer partnerships to deliver an engaging and personalised online shopping experience”.

The clothing retailer’s chief customer officer Jennifer Roebuck said that driving digital and omnichannel growth is “a key pillar of our refreshed brand strategy”.

“We are striving to be an early adopter of relevant technologies within our industry to provide a best-in-class online customer experience,” she added.

Livestream shopping or retail theatre

According to direct-to-consumer marketing agency Bolt Digital CEO Tash Courtenay Smith, retailers should consider hosting their livestreams through social channels to maximise reach.

“Social channels allow you to go not one, but two steps further, to where QVC (product demonstration), meets a live entertainment event (entertainment) meets Ant & Dec (audience participation). The result is pure retail theatre,” she told Charged.

On Snug’s livestream with Katherine Ryan she said: “It was nothing to do with sofas and instead blurred the line between content, community and commerce.

“With tens of thousands of attendees, the event virtually filled Wembley area, and took a quiz show format with five rounds. During these rounds, attendees were pulled from the audience onto the virtual stage to take part in the quiz.

“Even though the event wasn’t selling or demonstrating sofas per se, with 44,000 comments over 40 minutes, it resulted in all key marketing metrics such as reach, engagement as well as revenue.”

Pulling off such a feat is not done easily. But livestream shopping is worth the effort, as it makes ecommerce more human; something which is particularly important for mission-driven brands.

Retailers adopting the model early will find themselves at the front of what is set to become a huge trend worldwide, as brands connect with consumers and views translate into sales.

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