Experts have long predicted that livestream shopping would represent the next wave of digital commerce. And after years of success in the Asian market, the phenomenon seems to be finding traction in the U.S.
Sales-focused video programming has evolved beyond the network television variety familiar to generations past. Instead, the new age of livestreaming caters to the browsing and buying habits of modern digital consumers. Los Angeles-based online live-selling platform CommentSold has enabled more than 7,000 small-to-medium-sized businesses to sell their products without physical stores, or even a website. Founded in 2017, the company said it’s responsible for the sale of 146 million items with a lifetime GMV of $3.5 billion.
One local business owner has developed her own “perfect storm” for success using the platform’s consumer engagement tools, localized small-batch manufacturing, and a penchant for storytelling. Timeless Threads founder Sarah Bertram, who designs and develops womenswear in Downtown, L.A., hit $5 million in total sales on CommentSold at the end of 2022 after four years on the platform.
Bertram began selling clothing on Facebook in 2015, but Timeless Threads took off when she moved her family from Michigan to California. Proximity to production was essential to her hands-on approach, she said. Bertram purchases deadstock fabrics from resellers who aggregate leftover cuttings from larger brands and turns those materials into new fashion. She also scours warehouses filled with tons of discarded clothing for salvageable gems sold under her secondhand vertical. “Everything’s done right in Downtown Los Angeles—from where I source my fabric, to cut-and-sew, it’s all within a two-mile radius,” she said.
Despite the modern consumer’s social-fueled hunger for newness, Bertram is using platforms including Instagram, TikTok and Facebook to drive sales while educating shoppers about sustainability and ethical fashion. In 2020 alone, Timeless Threads diverted 102,000 pounds of discarded fabric from landfills—a fact she’s shared with her followers, some of whom join her multiple times each week as she sells her latest haul of vintage and secondhand goods, along with pieces straight from the factory floor.
“My customers know they could be one of 25 people in the world wearing that piece in that exact fabric,” she said, noting that upcycling fabrics has contributed to the brand’s cachet. Each live-selling session is essentially a limited-edition product drop, and Bertram ramps up the suspense for each item that appears on screen, plays to the crowd with inside jokes, calls out regular customers, and models the looks herself.
Meanwhile, the platform is able to aggregate clicks and comments across disparate social channels and automatically generate invoices—a process that Bertram once had to manage herself. Prior to joining CommentSold, she said she was selling between $20,000 and $30,000 per month using social channels. Her first livestream on the platform generated nearly as much within hours. “It was the craziest experience,” she said. “I will never forget it.”
“This the only platform that allows you to go live at the same time on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and your own website, and sell products everywhere in their own native format,” CommentSold CEO Gautam Goswami told Sourcing Journal. Comments generated during a selling session appear in a single stream, agnostic of where they originated, and the system also manages inventory availability and purchase orders, with the ability to pull products from different warehouses or other points of distribution.
CommentSold recently piloted app-based selling, allowing businesses like Timeless Threads to transact through their own smartphone apps. The platform gives vendors up-to-the-minute access to their sell-through data, which can inform future product development. For small-batch producers like Bertram, those metrics can be especially informative, guiding her choices for silhouettes, size runs and fabric choices.
Goswami said he observed the success of live selling in China while refining the CommentSold business. Streaming sales have eclipsed traditional e-commerce in the country because the consumer base gravitates to “a very consultative, and very personal, form of selling,” and shoppers enjoy buying from personalities they’ve come to trust. The same phenomenon is playing out stateside, where sellers like Bertram see followers return eight to 10 times per year to purchase—notable, given the premium price point of her locally and sustainably produced goods.
CommentSold, and live selling in general, is taking off in the U.S. because it provides an antidote to the least compelling features of e-commerce, according to Goswami. Shoppers now seem to be overwhelmed by limitless “endless aisle” options and overstimulated by media, he said. Now, they’re looking for compelling curation.
“If you go to Amazon or even Revolve looking for one thing, you’ll see thousands of outfits and they all start to look the same,” he said. What’s more, “When you go to a store or e-commerce platform, you have to make the choice without any advice from anyone else.” Watching Bertram try on clothes in her living room selling space is the antithesis of that experience.
“Most of the time, we see people following people that are like them,” he said. “You’re no longer like making the choice blind—it forms a community and they all feel enabled and empowered to make the right buying choices because they’re making them together.”