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Opinion: Live commerce promises exponential online sales

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The latest trend in the ever-evolving e-commerce world has analysts elated. Live commerce, often called livestream selling, is gaining popularity in the U.S. after becoming a $327 billion market in China last year.

While it might take several years for the U.S. to see similar sales, projections from Coresight Research Inc. show livestream sales are on track to reach $20 billion by the end of 2022. The same report expects U.S. live commerce revenue of $57 billion by 2026.

You already might have noticed live commerce events in your Facebook feed or Amazon app. Livestream selling uses live, interactive video to promote and sell products to viewers on social media or dedicated online selling platforms. In some cases, the selling events are reminiscent of television shopping networks, where hosts demonstrate the features and benefits of various products which are in stock and available for immediate purchase.

Other instances of livestream selling are more akin to watching blacksmiths forge gifts at an old-world festival. Business owners will create and customize orders on camera as they come in while talking about their process to viewers.

While the concept might not seem distinct from other shopping programs, the live, unfiltered participation from viewers is a key differentiator. Livestream selling offers a unique blend of entertainment, information and persuasion, which is not exclusively curated by the host. A community of viewers co-create the selling event experience through chat questions, comments and with like buttons. Even the prominently displayed viewer count plays a role in the experience.

Every interaction from a viewer is readily available for all to see. The open nature of this information works to bring legitimacy to the sales event.

With all questions and comments visible, those watching feed off the reactions of others – good or bad. If several viewers express excitement about a product, that excitement can spread. If a host avoids answering viewer questions, it becomes apparent and can cause watchers to mistrust the host or product.

The ability for viewers to impact the legitimacy of the sales program creates a vastly different sales environment than prerecorded informercials or curated TV programs. Not only is this new sales environment working, it is working better than other online sales channels.

Analysts at McKinsey & Co. found conversion rates from livestream selling to be 10 times higher than traditional e-commerce methods. Such a drastic increase in conversions is appealing to any online seller. Even with such sales potential, projections show livestream selling as only accounting for 10%-20% of U.S. online sales by 2026. Why would marketers and business owners hesitate in adopting such an innovative new sales method? Part of the hesitation comes from the resources required to successfully host live commerce events.

Livestream selling does not require special equipment. Any camera, social stream and internet connection will work to get started. Less tangible resources, however, are not as easy to secure. For example, livestream selling requires an audience. If a company does not already have a large following with decent engagement, that audience must be built prior. For this reason, many companies have chosen to enter the live commerce world through online influencers. Because the influencers have already captivated an audience, business owners have an easier path to start generating sales.

Beyond the captive audience, the host must be able to inform and entertain simultaneously. Not every business owner is capable of regularly captivating viewers live on camera. Business owners with this ability will typically spend substantial time preparing for a live sales event. For those without this unique skill, the role of host must be outsourced to an employee or third party.

Several local businesses are already seeing success through livestream selling events. Local clothing boutiques, for example, are streaming new inventory as it arrives in a virtual fashion show. After promoting the event for a few weeks, employees model the merchandise as owners answer questions and tell stories about the manufacturer. Another employee helps monitor chat and posts purchase links.

Livestream selling might not be a great fit for every company. Even so, with such promising projections, this is a method e-commerce companies need to consider. Done correctly, live commerce offers a new opportunity to exponentially increase sales. What business owner would not be elated by that?

Lance Coffman is a regional business consultant with the Missouri Small Business Development Center at Missouri State University. He can be reached at lancecoffman@missouristate.edu.

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