We've seen retail undergo a series of changes and upgrades over the past two years. Before COVID-19 got us to stay in and shut down malls and markets, 85 per cent of all shopping used to happen offline. Forced into quarantine, retailers and brands did the best they could to adapt to a new world order where they had to transition to online for sales or perish.
Digitalisation became the new mantra. Consumers too, quite naturally, weren't immune to this renewed digital push.
Many took to online shopping naturally. The younger generation had been buying things online for a while now, the elders followed suit gradually, but definitely. But many things were missing when it came to online shopping.
First and foremost, the experience. Pre-pandemic, going out to buy an outfit meant an evening out with friends or family - it was a social outing in most cases. It was all about consulting each other, speaking to the salespeople, trying to find the best deal, and visiting multiple shops until you found just what you were looking for.
Online shopping took all of it away by bombarding customers with a million discounts and offers, and consulting another person for the best suggestion got replaced with sending each other links. And while that's exactly how things still stand, social commerce and live commerce has brought some action into a space that is cluttered and on the verge of becoming very boring.
Ask Paloumi Das. The 25-year-old, who works as head of content at the fabric retail outlet Cottons and Satins, is no stranger to online shopping and social commerce. Das has been shopping online for years now and the brand she works for has been juggling between ramping up their portfolio on Instagram - where they have about 65k followers - and directing interested users to their website or their brick-and-mortar stores in Delhi and Mumbai if and when feasible.
"I've been shopping online long enough to not be hassled when malls were shut down due to the pandemic. One barely needs to go out to buy anything nowadays and while that is very convenient, it is also quite boring," Das said. She argues that social media has made it easy for consumers to buy something with a click of a button.
While it certainly is easy, but it has killed off the excitement of shopping. And at this point, consumers like Das feel frustrated being confined to this linear mode of shopping, where all it entails is sharing product links to friends so that they can decide what one can buy, and if not that, then after a bout of endless scrolling, chance upon something to buy it using a click of a button.
And this increasing frustration is slowly percolating into the brands as well. They too seem to be asking the same ubiquitous question: how do we liven things up?
The solution lies in the question itself. When social commerce has become mainstream, the next best bet is to go live.
What does 'going live' in shopping mean?
Live commerce, simply explained, is a real-time event where customers get a chance to bag some great deals and they also get to engage with other customers, and influencers, ask questions, etc., before they buy the product.
Live commerce is already a huge trend in China and globally people are starting to pay attention, as are the brands. Cartier hosted its first jewellery show on Taobao Live where they unveiled more than 400 timepieces and jewellery items. Kim Kardashian sold more than 15,000 bottles of her perfume in minutes, live.
Closer home, Myntra has taken its first step into the world of live commerce with M-Live. The company said during its announcement that this move is "likely to engage 50 per cent of its monthly active users" over the next few years, while currently, it engages about 20 per cent of them. The company aims to push out about 1,000 hours of video content per month.
M-Live is a real-time, interactive experience that can be found on the shopping app and is currently live. "M-Live is also the nearest to an expert-assisted offline shopping experience that is fully experienced online.
The core benefit is the users' ability to get interactive descriptions of products independently curated by experts they can trust and identify with while getting instant advice on various aspects like styling, fitment, product quality, and material," the company explained.
"With several concurrent users joining the live sessions, it also gives users the opportunity to shop as a community and benefit from the community's knowledge, observations, questions, and comments, enabling a more confident shopping decision that is backed by social validation," it added.
This community feeling is one of the core benefits of live commerce and the only one that effectively can recreate the social experience of being able to shop with friends and family.
Live commerce has other perks too. For example, it is the best way to publicise and optimise product launches, thematic sales (like Diwali or Black Friday sales) with the aid of celebrity interactions, product demos, and influencer videos. And another very significant feature that live commerce can optimise is impulse purchases.
To make the best of impulse purchases, all that apps, websites, and brands need to do is to embed a clickable layer that presents users with a shortcut to making the purchase fast and smoothly. The good news here - for brands looking to get on board with this - is that there are apps that can help you.
"Indians spend on average over five hours a day online with a large part of that time is dedicated to two activities: consuming content and shopping," said Firework's President of Global Business Jason Holland to Business Today. Holland's company, Firework helps bring these two concepts together to help brands create live commerce experiences on their platforms.
"Global e-commerce growth accelerated dramatically as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. This, combined with recent forecasts that 82 per cent of global Internet traffic will be video by 2022, make the growth of live commerce in India seem practically inevitable. As a blend of two of Indian consumers' favorite online activities - content consumption and e-commerce - livestream shopping is arguably the most important factor in the evolution of shopping, both in India and around the world," Holland said.
Conceptually, all this sounds fair, but would it work in India as well as it did in China? Holland thinks it will.
"India has all the right ingredients to become one of the top three global leaders in livestream shopping, and it's only a matter of time before it does," he said. And Holland has data to back his belief.
He points out that according to Comscore's data, online retail sales increased by 43 per cent over the first several months of the pandemic, from January to October of 2020. "And even now, long after the lockdowns ended, online retail sales still clock significantly higher. This suggests that COVID-19 has not only driven digital adoption in developing nations but has also accelerated digital maturity and established habits," Holland pointed out.
"The responsibility now rests on brands to embrace live commerce and seize the massive opportunity to be among the first movers in these emerging markets," he added. And Holland isn't the only one to think this way.
Achint Setia - VP & Business Head - Social Commerce at Myntra - argues that livestream shopping is that perfect confluence of aspiration, on one hand, and innovation, on the other.
"We are always on the quest to build innovative fashion-tech shopping experiences for our customers that can strengthen our relationships with them by garnering higher trust, creating inspirational and immersive experiences while deeply engaging them.
Livestream shopping is the perfect fit for fashion and beauty shoppers as it blends both aspirational and informative content with commerce, it democratizes fashion, and is a convergence of many current trends, such as influencer-led shopping and social commerce," he said.
So, what's the best way forward for brands looking to step into the live commerce space?
"I think it is important for brands to embrace the change first. Brands need to understand that establishing a social media presence isn't the best path to digital transformation. Additionally, with a significant share of shopping happening online, brands need to remember that competition is only a click away - which is a significant departure from brick-and-mortar retail. That heightened competition makes it incredibly important to offer a differentiated shopping experience - one that embodies the brand identity faithfully, while also delivering on the promise of entertainment," Holland explained.
The most important factor for brands to succeed in this space is data.
With social media platforms that have incorporated more sophisticated e-commerce elements, businesses end up forfeiting all access to their first-party data, which is an invaluable resource for any brand.
If data is unavailable, that combined with very low engagement and conversion rates can lead to hugely inefficient marketing spends. Brands need to thus pick the right apps that give them access to all the numbers like Firework does so that they can understand their audience.
Live streaming and the influencer
The job of getting all this right lies with the brand - obviously. But there's a massive lot that content creators and influencers can make off this as well, and short video apps are paying attention.
This year two short video apps, Moj and Bolo Live, ventured into live streaming, while Glance's Roposo too took a step ahead and moved from live streaming and into live commerce.
"The next decade belongs to creator economy globally and live streaming influencers from India shall dominate the same. Just India is expected to see over a $300 million market for creator economy by 2023 end," said Tanmai Paul, Chief Product Officer and Co-founder, Bolo Live.
Paul said that pivoting into live streaming from short videos has helped democratise monetisation opportunities for content creators by giving them opportunities beyond brand partnerships.
"Fan-to-creator microtransactions on Bolo Live has led to over 4x increase in creator earnings in just last six months. Already more than 18 live streamers are earning over Rs 1 lakh per month from our platform," Paul added.
Influencers and content creators will play a significant role in live commerce and its proliferation in the retail space, at least for starters. Live commerce is an ecosystem that can benefit the brand, the content creator/influencer, and the customer, it is only a matter of time till everyone cashes in.
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