Live Commerce: Now Is the Time to Hop on the KOL Train

Influencing meets infomercials

viya huang wei
Chinese network celebrity Viya Huang Wei poses after live streaming on the e-commerce platform Taobao on May 19, 2020 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. Getty Images
Headshot of Sean Choi

Imagine attracting 20 million viewers on a livestream and selling 70,000 units of product within four hours. That’s what China-based live commerce influencer Viya Huang recently managed to do. And the product, you ask? Duck necks.

Live commerce, alternatively known as livestream shopping, is the love child of traditional infomercials and modern-day influencer marketing. Viewers tune in and enjoy the real-time interaction of a livestream hosted by a trusted influencer, otherwise known as a key opinion leader (KOL), who showcases a specific product. Live commerce started in China and has been a thriving industry poised to reach $135 billion in revenue this year with even more projected growth amid the Covid-19 crisis.

The U.S. races for adoption 

The U.S. has been itching for this format to migrate over, and there are clear indicators that the time has arrived. Last year, Kim Kardashian made a guest appearance on Huang’s livestream to promote her signature perfume line, selling out her 15,000-bottle inventory within 15 minutes. As far as supporting platforms, social media companies hopped on the overseas success as Instagram launched its Live Shopping function in August and TikTok recently partnered with NTWRK for its first shoppable livestream. One of the earlier American adopters, Amazon, debuted the Amazon Live program last year and pushed viewership heavily during Prime Day. Also, the latest domestic contenders entering the space, Popshop Live and Spin, have built out platforms specifically for live commerce.

Marketers can’t afford to miss out

Brands are in an ideal position to be live commerce pioneers in the U.S. in this evolution of influencer marketing. Brands can see solid conversions and return in this shortened, yet impactful, purchase journey. Even more niche brands can expect greater product awareness and boosted ROAS as well. Picture this: the KOL for your first live commerce session being the recent Instagram record-breaking David Attenborough or even TikTok’s golden child Charli D’Amelio. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination in this gold rush.

Plan to your brand’s needs

As for guidelines, there are no growth formulas or hacks in uncharted territories. Planning for your brand’s entry into live commerce is an opportunity to understand your audience—product areas of interest, common questions, etc. Let this inform your livestream’s run of show and the content guidelines for your KOL. Don’t let a shiny new format distract from the continued need for intriguing and exciting content, either.

Experiment patiently

In reality, your first few livestreams probably won’t meet your expectations. That’s OK. Remember, the draw of live video isn’t like its predecessor—overly glamorized, polished posts. Livestreaming fosters spontaneity, and audiences embrace imperfection resulting in a more authentic experience. Lastly, the actual value of discounts still has to be competitive so test different offerings, too.

If you’re going to do it, do it now

There are savings in store for those who invest early considering the quality of KOLs, and their rates will rise as live commerce gains in popularity. In addition, there is a learning curve in this industry, and mistakes will be more affordable earlier on. For example, as many creators know, the number of livestreams on Amazon Live can be overwhelming for potential viewers so cross-channel promotion for your specific livestream is essential. Regardless, this wave is imminent, and the benefits are within reach for brands looking to disrupt. If you were late to the game on social media and influencer marketing, is live commerce going to be your third and final strike?


Sean Choi is a Brooklyn-based strategist.
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