Al Sambar, left, Liyia Wu and Ophelia Ceradini.

HIGH POINT – In a retail environment where people are staying home to shop online more than ever, getting and keeping a consumer attention can be difficult. One new way that is on the rise? Live-stream video selling.

According to several experts in a session at the National Retail Federation’s annual retail conference NRF 2021, live-stream video selling is going to be a huge part of online shopping’s future.

Lauded by converts for its high customer engagement levels, relatability and ability to replicate in-store experiences, live-stream selling involves explaining, demonstrating and selling product on a live video that viewers can then purchase directly from through embedded links. It essentially gives sellers their own instant shopping channel, offering businesses the opportunity to sell directly, answer customer questions immediately, offer special deals, and involve different company personalities and even celebrities.

“This isn’t just about shopping,” said Liyia Wu, founder and CEO of China-based live-stream selling platform ShopShops. “This is about creating a live experience that you’re sharing authentically with an audience. They’re trying to find things that are interesting and excite their lives, so its about sharing your knowledge, your experience with the viewer, and it sells.”

In China, live-stream retailing made about $140 billion in revenue last year, and next year about 500 million people are projected to tune in to live-stream sales programming. In the U.S., while many may be familiar with live videos or “going live” on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, live-stream selling made a smaller sum last year, about $5 billion, according to panel moderator Al Sambar of XRC Labs, a retail technology company.

ShopShops hosts hundreds of live streaming events every year for a variety of companies and products in different industries and categories. Most of its streams were aimed at the Chinese market, although it recently opened a U.S. branch. According to Wu, ShopShops’ audience is made up of mostly female Millennials, and that may have something to do with the industries – fashion and beauty – that have been most successful using the platform. That being said, the pandemic seems to have caused interest in more categories – like home, food and one-of-a-kind, vintage and collector items – bringing in more kinds of consumers.

In the U.S., the Estée Lauder Cos. accelerated live-stream selling in 2020 when the pandemic shut down brick-and-mortar stores, according to Ophelia Ceradini, vice president of digital technology and innovation for the beauty brands company. Ceradini said the company started it as a way to replicate the in-store shopping experience. To make that more authentic, the company offered both mass live streaming to the general public and live consultations, which involved one-on-one video calls with customers and the brands’ representatives.

Right now, Estée Lauder has been working primarily with its makeup and skincare brands, but it has plans expand with its fragrance and hair care products, as Ceradini noted customers have been enjoying the educational part of their offerings and the instant gratification of being able to shop directly, resulting in increased online sells.

“It’s been a really great experience, a lot of learning, and there is so much more opportunity in it as well,” said Ceradini about the future growth of live streaming. “I think the future of AR, live streaming and gaming is … more as how can we incorporate it together into one greater experience for consumers.”

For those looking to get in on the trend before it expands further, Wu and Ceradini said the real key to success is getting the right personality on screen. While live-stream selling may seem comparable to QVC-style shopping channels and shows, the real key to success is ensuring that video hosts  are likeable and make everything seem more natural and less scripted than something like shopping channel programming.

“When you do ads or TV or anything like that, you have a very specific way of doing it,” explained Ceradini. “I think what’s different about live streaming is that it is so personable. It’s about the person, the talent, whether it’s a beauty advisor or a product expert or a makeup artist, it’s about them as a person talking to you about products. That’s the most crucial part.”

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