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How Teleshopping is Finding a Second Life Online

24 January, 2022 

The humble shopping channel is not exactly a template for how to reach younger audiences. QVC, one of the best known shopping channels, says its audience skews towards Gen X and baby boomers, rather than Gen Z and millennials.

And yet the essential format – live pitching products which audiences can buy immediately, in an entertaining fashion – is seeing a massive resurgence across social platforms and digital media brands.

In the last year or so TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and BuzzFeed are among those who have made the move into shoppable live streams, or ‘shoppertainment’ as the format is sometimes described.

These shoppable live streams aren’t just a cut-and-paste of the QVC format. They tend to use celebrities or influencers as hosts, have more direct interaction with and between audience members, and of course the path to completing a purchase is quicker and simpler than on linear TV.

But a lot of features have been carried across from traditional shopping channels. Walmart’s shoppable live streams on Twitter have seen host Jason Derulo stroll around a product-laden studio, touting each product in turn, backed up by on-screen graphics. Remove Jason Derulo from the equation, and the stream could sit quite happily on Ideal World or QVC.

A natural evolution

While the marriage of old-school shopping channels with Gen Z friendly social platforms may seem an odd one, those working on these features say they are a natural evolution of how users interact with brands.

“Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the relationship between consumers and brands evolve into a new type of shopping culture,” said Patrick Nommensen, UK senior director of e-commerce operations at TikTok. “Every day on TikTok, people are sharing entertaining content that features brands and products they love, sparking shopping trends and driving cultural conversations around products new and old alike.”

Users aren’t averse to being sold to on social platforms – in fact quite the opposite. Research conducted by Walnut Limited last year found that 42 percent of users go to TikTok to discover new things. Nommensen pointed to the widespread #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt tag, which has attracted more than 8.1 billion views – users embrace the idea of finding new products on the platform, rather than shying away from it.

Justin Hoang, staff product manager at Twitter, said Twitter has seen similar behaviour. “If you’ve ever been on Twitter when the PS5 was launching, when Beyoncé is dropping a new IVY PARK collection, or when the latest Charlotte Tilbury foundation is being showcased, you’ve seen how people come to Twitter every day to talk about products,” he said.

The idea with shoppable live streams is to channel this enthusiasm by creating more product-led events. “Our growing shopping ecosystem, including Live Shopping, is all meant to leverage the power of that shopping conversation and create a pathway for people to go from talking about and discovering products to actually purchasing them,” said Hoang.

It’s not just social platforms which are moving into shoppertainment. Last year Amex invested in Firework, a business which helps retailers and publishers run shoppable live streams on their owned and operated apps and websites.

Anand Vidyanand, president, head of business at Firework, says the logic for online retailers’ move into shoppable live video is quite different from social platforms.

From their point of view, it’s an evolution of how they showcase products to customers. Shoppable live streams can be a much more effective way of outlining a product’s features than still images and text. But retailers have previously avoided live streams, and video in general, due to fears of slow loading speeds.

“It’s like the transition from text to images 15-20 years ago,” said Vidyanand. “Back then you’d see websites avoiding images because they were afraid they would take too long to load, but obviously that’s not the case today. That same transformation is now happening where we’re moving from images to video.”

With those barriers coming down, retailers are taking advantage of video’s strengths in telling a brand’s story, giving a sense of personality, and demonstrating how a product works.

And this perhaps explains why shoppertainment seems to work on social media too.

Excessive advertising on social platforms can result in backlash if users see it as brands intruding in social spaces – see Reddit’s /r/hailcorporate subreddit for evidence.

But shoppertainment isn’t about making entertainment more shoppable, it’s about making shopping more entertaining. It works when users want to hear more about products, which as the data shows, is often the case on social platforms.

Beauty, fashion, and electronics among early adopters

While lots of platforms and retailers are jumping on the opportunity, it’s still early days for shoppertainment, and those involved are still figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

One obvious question is which types of brands shoppable live streams are suitable for. And testing success is harder than it might first appear.

One the one hand, shoppable live streams look inherently very easy to measure, since brands can see exactly how many people clicked through and immediately made a purchase. But Justin Hoang said Twitter hopes shoppable live streams will drive intent, not just immediate purchases. So click-through rates alone won’t tell the whole story.

So platforms are inviting all sorts of brands to try out their shoppable live video tools. Hoang said sectors which are top of mind for Twitter are lifestyle (entertainment, sports, fashion and beauty), CPG, tech/telco, and gaming, though Twitter won’t limit itself to these types of brands. Patrick Nommensen similarly said that TikTok has seen a wide range of brands try out its shoppable features, including small businesses, and that beauty, fashion and electronics brands have performed well so far.

Firework’s Anand Vidyanand meanwhile said that most brands which are trying to reach 10-35 year olds are interested in shoppable live streams, because that’s how their customers want to engage with brands.

Vidyanand added that the pandemic has showcased the strengths of shoppertainment particularly for high end brands, whose consumers would usually want to be able to touch and feel products before buying.

Since this was impossible during the pandemic, video live streams provided the next best thing – and consumers as a result have become more comfortable with making expensive purchases without having seen the product in person.

Balancing entertainment with explanation

Platforms are also still working out what the actual content itself should look like. There’s something of a trade-off between being informative and being entertaining, and getting the balance right is important.

Nommensen said brands shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that TikTok is primarily about entertainment. “Brands looking to gain traction with live shopping should think content-first and see it as a  chance to meet existing customers, as well as a storytelling opportunity and a chance to build their own community for those who are yet to come across their story and product,” he said.

Hiring celebrities or influencers as hosts can help, since audiences are naturally more excited to watch them and interact with them.

But Firework’s Vidyanand said different tactics will work for different brands. Cheaper products which don’t require much explaining might work better with more entertaining live streams, and influencers can be useful for drawing in audiences. But for more expensive products, audiences are likely to want more detailed information which will help them make an informed purchase. So product experts, who can explain all the ins and outs in detail, will be more appropriate hosts than celebrities. 

The final question, which is particularly important for social platforms, is how best to promote these live streams. Again it’s a fine balance – overly aggressive promotion could make social platforms feel too salesy.

Twitter’s Justin Hoang believes that a mix of organic and paid marketing works best. Twitter encourages businesses to tease upcoming live events via their own accounts, and then use Twitter’s various paid promotion features before and during the stream.


About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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