The livestream shopping revolution hasn’t happened in Australia … yet

Social media companies are punting on livestream shopping to be the next big thing, but in Australia, the questions remain as to when, and how.

The eleventh day of November came and went unassumingly in Australia, but in China, the biggest online shopping festival known to the e-commerce world, Alibaba Singles Day, was making a splash.

In a flurry of brand promotions and sales events, more than 300 million consumers this year have tuned in to one single promotional channel – livestream rooms.

According to figures released by Alibaba, during the entire 2022 Singles Day sales period, 62 influencer and merchant-run livestreaming channels surpassed CN¥100 million (A$20.86 million) in gross merchandise value, and 632 channels surpassed CN¥10 million (A$2.08 million).

A livestream host in Zhengzhou, China

The concept itself is simple, usually involving one or more showroom hosts to promote products via live videos, sometimes over a period of several hours. Described by some as “infomercials on steroids”, livestream shopping in China is a hyper-interactive showground fuelled by talents, agencies, training schools and production companies.

However, the enticing format is a case the West can’t seem to crack, with a lack of prominent case studies and integration with long-term strategies.

As TikTok and YouTube both launched livestream capabilities in Australia this year, companies still have faith in the model taking off in the market, but the questions remain as to when, and how.

Social and e-commerce platforms took the plunge

Globally, there have been some experiential efforts launched by social media platforms on livestream shopping. And as the way experiments go, not all of them worked out.

Meta discontinued Facebook’s livestream shopping feature in October, after debuting it first in Australia with KitKat in 2020, during a live event in the brand’s Sydney boutique. While live shopping is still available on Instagram for eligible shops, Meta said in a now-deleted blog post that it would prioritise the development of Reels, a more directly competitive channel with TikTok.

TikTok’s journey with livestream shopping hasn’t been the smoothest either. While its Bytedance-owned Chinese sister app, Douyin, has been reported by Statista to have 88.3% of users streaming live content in China, TikTok has abandoned the livestreaming ship in the UK. As reported by Financial Times, the short-form video platform rolled back the feature after failing to gain consumer interest, giving its first push of livestream shopping outside Asia a difficult start.

James Johnson

James Johnson, APAC director of technology services and strategic merchants at Shopify, says that there’s more to the success formula of livestream promotions in Asia apart from technological properties.

Shopify itself released an integration with YouTube in Australia earlier this year, allowing creators to tag products to a livestream directly from the Live Control Room.

“In some Asian markets or in China or other places, live streaming is more of a phenomenon,” he says.

“The technology isn’t necessarily all that different, part of it is about building up examples of that from a merchant perspective and building up the consumer appetite and desire behind some of those pieces.”

He mentions that presenting livestream shopping as a way to bring companies and content creators together has been Shopify’s approach in getting brands on board.

“It’s two sides of the equation. One is around having content creators that have a subscription base or an audience and for them to be able to monetise that community and add commerce to their existing community, if you will.

“And the other side of the equation is brands that are looking to have and build connections with consumers.

“Brands are heading over into the content creation path and content creators are becoming brands. We’re somewhat the access to enable and make that possible.”

Consumers and brands hesitant in a nascent space

Nevertheless, livestream shopping, at this stage of development, is probably not for every brand and not all the time, Johnson suggests.

“If you’re a fashion retailer, and you want to do styling workshops, or highlight new collections … make it exciting for your audience to be able to buy in that context is hugely relevant.

“Live streaming won’t be appropriate in every instance, it’s probably going to be more around launches, generating excitement, and generating brand awareness in many respects.”

Brendon Peters

The consumer side is similarly tentative about the format, as Brendon Peters, e-commerce director of Havas Market, says traditional ways of shopping still stand strong in Australia.

Havas Market is Havas Group’s full-service e-commerce offering, which offers services including commerce consultancy, customer experience, e-commerce and online marketplace strategy.

“I do very often see articles and businesses out there saying ‘the future of e-commerce this, the future of e-commerce that’,” he says.

“And I still think Australia’s bricks and mortar and direct to consumer is extremely resilient and continues to be what’s driving the bulk of the revenue for brands,” he says.

“And that’s quite contradictory to the likes of, say, the States, China, the UK or the EU who are very marketplace first, whereas we’re very DTC first.”

He believes the niche status of livestream shopping is partially the result of brand and consumer sentiments feeding into each other. While brands are hesitant about putting their money in livestreaming due to concerns about its role, consumers’ perceptions are influenced by brands limiting their buying.

Additionally, there is the fundamental element of customer experience. According to Hootsuite research, consumers are wary about engaging with social commerce due to a lack of trust in both social networks and vendors, citing reasons such as the quality and authenticity of products and the refund guarantee. This has been a big factor behind the tepid adoption of social e-commerce by both buyers and brands.

And these concerns are not unfounded, as BuzzFeed reported, consumers are being spoofed into buying counterfeits of big brand products on TikTok Shop for less than half of the price. Another Financial Times investigation found TikTok receives about 200 complaints from customers each day.

Therefore, instead of diving headfirst into livestream shopping right now, Peters recommends brands in Australia get down to the basics of social media and build out a native experience for different audience types.

He says: “If you haven’t created an ecosystem of people that are really enjoying and engaging with your brand on those platforms that are safe, how can you then confidently go in and spend a bunch of cash working with an influencer to potentially get those people to engage in a different way?”

The next step

Although the format is a niche now and is likely to stay a niche for a while, social media giants have doubled down on pushing the feature, including TikTok’s recent partnership talks with an external livestream company in the US, TalkShopLive.

Business Insider also reported Meta to have been reaching out to multiple creators in August to test run a separate new livestreaming platform, Super.

Peters says he’s happy to “eat my hat” one day if livestream shopping does blow up in Australia. But before then, there’s a wealth of opportunities in other aspects of social commerce, which is still “very much in its infancy” in Australia.

“The unfortunate truth is, if you look at a DTC website, you’ll see maybe 5% of your traffic or revenue is coming from social media, that means that you may be giving it 5% of the attention,” he says.

“But there’s so much that’s happening with social commerce outside of running ads: It’s about creating unique, personalised experiences, featuring unique content that is relevant for the target audience and enabling seamless shopping experiences with only a few screen taps.

“I love the idea [livestream shopping], I just don’t think a lot of brands are there just yet. They should first be fully enabling their social channels to improve discoverability and help grow their audiences organically. Their social channels need to align and contribute to the overall customer experience of the brand.”


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