As the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, consumers adopted a new, cloistered lifestyle, where staying safe and healthy became paramount and social engagements were few and far between. Reaching shoppers has never been harder, as brick-and-mortar retailers have learned over the past year.
But new methods for engagement are emerging—and they’re quickly gaining ground. At NRF’s virtual Retail Big Show on Thursday, experts discussed the experiential trend that’s poised to bridge the gap between in-person browsing and the accessibility afforded by e-commerce.
Liyia Wu, founder and CEO of interactive virtual shopping marketplace ShopShops, said her retail tech tool drives product discovery while providing the entertaining content that consumers crave. “We believe that connecting offline or online retailers across the world to shoppers directly, authentically and interactively via livestream, is the future of how people will shop,” she said.
Shoppers can sit back and watch as influencers, stylists and designers take them on virtual tours of their favorite shopping haunts and personal collections, she said, and interact with these personalities through requests to showcase or try on certain items. Product-related queries help educate them about potential purchases, while the experience of watching another person explore a store helps curb FOMO—an almost-substitute for a real shopping outing.
According to Wu, ShopShops’ primary audience is millennial moms between the ages of 25-40, and its largest market is China. The platform’s demographic is “majority female,” she said—especially those shopping fashion and beauty products. But there has been male audience growth in other categories, like food and home, she acknowledged.
Accessories, like one-of-a-kind vintage items, have become particularly popular during the Covid crisis, along with discounted luxury products from consignment boutiques. The exclusivity of these products is driving shopper interest, Wu said. “If the products are interesting, rare to find, well-produced, or if there’s a story around how to use it or apply it, and deep knowledge is required—these are product categories that play well in the livestream or video field,” she said.
The experience of shopping a livestream stands in sharp contrast to a run-of-the-mill e-commerce browsing session. “There’s only images on the page—there’s not a real person talking to you, or making a joke with you, or creating a memory,” she said.
The format works wonders in the beauty space, according to Ophelia Ceradini, vice president of digital technology and innovation at The Estée Lauder Companies. “It definitely lends itself well, and we’ve seen double-digit growth in skincare and makeup,” she said, adding that the cosmetic giant plans to roll out livestream efforts globally over the coming months.
The companies’ brands have used the technology to stream video of makeup artists and beauty advisors directly from their stores as the products benefit greatly from demonstration. “When they talk about the products, whether it’s skincare or their makeup routine, they’re actually putting it on their faces,” she said. “It’s very engaging, but also very educational.”
According to Wu, when it comes to apparel and accessories, livestreaming can provide shoppers with different views of a product, and help them to understand its scale. Photos can sometimes obscure that information, she said.
While many of ShopShops’ retail partners have had to close their doors amid retail shutdowns across the globe, Wu said that firm has been working to help bolster their e-commerce operations. While tastemakers may not be able to stream directly from stores, they can still tout the features and benefits of their web purchases on camera from home.
ShopShops launched in the U.S. in November with a holiday market shopping event featuring female-founded brands like Rebecca Minkoff. The platform is slowly ramping up its stateside engagement, Wu said, as it adjusts to the differences in tastes and behaviors between the Chinese and American audiences. “We are seeing traction and some users adopting this new format” of shopping, she said, and some users have already displayed a high propensity for repeat purchases.
“We’re seeing the same behavior, or ‘addiction’ being created” as ShopShops has experienced with its Chinese user base, she said. “People are tuning in to see the same host, or they’re following different hosts at different events. The difference between ShopShops and traditional e-commerce is that we’re bringing content and commerce together.”