Live shopping: the past, present and future of e-commerce

28th April 2022 | Lucy Millar

What if the human interaction element of in-store shopping could be combined with the convenience of e-commerce? In case you missed it, selling via online livestreams is the newest online shopping craze, following a pattern of Asian trends making waves on the western retail scene.

How it started

Although live shopping is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, televised home shopping (i.e., teleshopping) has been popular here since the late 1970s and was even experimented with as early as the 1950s. Shopping channels such as the Home Shopping Network and QVC were introduced to market products to customers at home through live sales pitches and product demonstrations.

This remains a popular sales technique in certain subsectors, such as the jewellery market – JTV still broadcasts to 80 million homes in the US. Although many companies may have since moved away from this sales format, favouring the ease and convenience of online ads and one-click online shopping, newer forms of media are bringing a resurgence of the teleshopping format.

Shopshops, one of the first interactive live-commerce marketplaces, was created by Liyia Wu in 2015 to connect retail stores with Chinese consumers. The Chinese live-commerce market is now colossal, with an expected value of 4.9 trillion yuan (£584 billion) by 2023.

Live shopping is based on similar principles to its televised counterpart, but with a modern twist. Brand representatives showcase and discuss their products on online livestreams, and encourage audience participation via real-time comment sections. Like the shopping channels, live shopping allows for product demonstrations and direct purchases – except ‘call now!’ hotlines have been replaced with an in-app ‘press-to-buy’ button.

Is it worth it?

Live-commerce brings the experience of in-store shopping to customers in the comfort of their own homes, allowing brands to market their products to a wide audience in a short amount of time. There is a simple conversion from advertisement to purchase – a viewer may learn about the product for the first time, decide they want to make a purchase and physically make that purchase, all within the duration of the livestream event.

Analysts have argued that livestreams only entice around 1% of viewers to make a purchase. However, customer engagement is higher than in other forms of e-commerce, as the livestream format allows viewers to ask questions about products and have a brand representative answer them in real-time. For the consumer, it is beneficial to be able to have these conversations about a potential purchase, rather than having to rely on written product descriptions and reviews. It can incite higher levels of trust in the brand and the product itself.

Therefore, even if viewers do not make a purchase during the livestream, they will have increased awareness of your brand and may decide to visit your store/website or buy your product at a later date. Retail TouchPoints note that 70% of sales from livestreaming happen after an event, suggesting a live shopping experience can have a lasting impact on brand awareness and sales.

Where to stream

There are three main options when it comes to deciding where to host your live shopping event: social media, dedicated live shopping platforms, or your own online store. All have their benefits and drawbacks. So, if you are considering diving into the world of live-commerce, assess your store’s goals and priorities when making this choice, or simply use trial-and-error.

1. Social media

Unsurprisingly, social media is the most popular platform for live shopping events. Most brands already use Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Youtube to market their products and have a built-in audience of followers, and all these platforms have livestreaming capabilities. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of people already using these apps daily.

The algorithms of these apps also make it more likely for people who do not already follow your account to stumble across the live shopping event than if it were happening elsewhere, resulting in opportunistic purchases.

2. Dedicated live shopping platforms

Having seen a recent boost in popularity, specialised live-commerce platforms are a great place to experiment with live shopping events. They come equipped with all the features you need to host an interactive livestream, and often go the extra mile to enhance the experience and stand out from the crowd. Although most require a paid subscription fee, many offer a free trial period.

Examples include:

  • ShopShops was one of the first platforms of its kind and now has an established audience in China and a fast-growing one in the US (among 30+ other countries). With their aim to replicate the in-store shopping experience, they have hosted shows with over 1,000 partners, including Theory, Gucci and Jimmy Choo.
  • GoLive offers the ability to showcase products and interact with customers, but goes a step further by using artificial intelligence and real-time analytics to obtain customer data and predict future shopping behaviour.
  • Amazon has launched their own live shopping app, Amazon Live, aimed at brands and influencers who want to interact with shoppers in real-time. Being one of the most well renowned and widely-used e-commerce sites in the world, it is unsurprising that Amazon has jumped on the bandwagon of this up-and-coming shopping trend, and its popularity is sure to surge. However, the Live feature is currently only available in the US.
  • Popshop Live allows sellers to livestream and share their inventory view simultaneously. Moreover, it offers the ability to sell tickets to VIP streams, private shows or even one-to-one consultations.

3. Live from your online store

Of course, the downside of using third-party platforms is that sellers are limited in their control over the customer experience, which may prevent re-engagement and data capture. For some brands, controlling, customising, and individualising aspects of the live shopping experience is crucial. In this case, self-hosting can be a great option, allowing better opportunities to display branding and repurpose content from livestreams on other platforms. Should you choose this avenue, you can also simultaneously stream on social media to expand your reach.

What the future holds

So, what do the experts think about live shopping – fad or the future direction of retail? Despite still being an emerging retail trend in Europe, Data firm Mediatel predicts that the live shopping industry in the UK will be worth £2.4 billion by 2023. What’s more, the industry is forecasted to account for 20% of global e-commerce by 2026

Confidence in the future of live shopping is best demonstrated by the brands that have given it a try, investing time and money in the process. M&S launched ‘M&S Live’ earlier this year, offering a small number of programmes focusing on particular ranges as an attempt to tap into a younger demographic.

Striving to be an early adopter, Ted Baker has used live shopping to deliver an engaging and personalised online shopping experience, through the power of influencer partnerships.

L’Oréal has not only hosted a variety of online shopping events for its brands such as Urban Decay and Lancôme, but they have also partnered with TikTok to experiment with its pilot ‘social commerce’ feature, directly connecting the influencer and creator community with the ability to make in-app sales.

All utilise the knowledge that social media users are far more attracted to and invested in video content than other forms. With new social media platforms popping up every year and the continuous addition of opportunities for advertising and sales to current platforms, it looks like live shopping, and social commerce in general, are only going to become a bigger part of our lives.


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