The pandemic has sent the live-selling industry into overdrive. The Chinese government’s strict ‘zero Covid’ policies have hit the physical retail sector hard. Stuck at home, salespeople and business owners have started selling online, joined by celebrities, athletes and even government officials. Asset management company CINDA Titles estimates that the live-streaming market was worth 2.84 trillion yuan ($42.3 billion) at the end of 2022.
Live streaming wasn’t just something e-commerce companies were doing – social media companies saw it as a way to monetize their platforms. Among them was Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, which started cooperating with Taobao in March 2018 to test a shopping cart feature for celebrity accounts with over a million followers. In December, the feature was rolled out to all authenticated accounts with more than 8,000 followers.
After TikTok took off in Western countries, the company tried to export the live-selling model as well. The company launched TikTok Shop in the UK in August 2021, allowing merchants, brands and creators to display and sell products directly on TikTok.
Jiang was among the first group of influencers invited by TikTok to test the TikTok Shop feature. She was able to find several brands interested in the UK market. She invited her friends to be influencers while she took care of the administrative part. They broadcast live for a month, broadcasting about three hours a day.
The results were not encouraging. One of the products she was selling was sportswear, on behalf of a Chinese brand that wanted to target young women between the ages of 20 and 30, “but a lot of the audience our session attracted were men in their 50s and 60s, wanting to see influencers trying on tight sportswear,” she says. “I don’t think they’ve found the algorithm to bring the right demographic to your stream.”
TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.
In July 2022, THE FinancialTimes reported that TikTok had abandoned plans to expand TikTok Shop to Europe and the United States. Four months later, however, the company began testing its US shopping feature, offering brands an integrated checkout system that allows customers to purchase products without leaving the platform. In July 2022, YouTube announced it would expand its direct shopping partnership with e-commerce platform Shopify.
“For years, everyone has seen the direct sales business in China explode,” said Michelle Goad, operating partner at investment firm TCG. “I think the platforms felt the functionality had been reduced enough by watching some of these startups grow constantly to finally put their hats in the ring.”
Meta has also experimented with live shopping on Facebook and Instagram, but has since quietly put aside live e-commerce functions on both services.
Amazon launched its Amazon Live platform in 2019. In 2021 and 2022, the company held live stream events for its Prime Day sales events, featuring cameos from celebrities, including comedian Kevin Hart and the Australian model Miranda Kerr. The company says it is pleased with the growth of the platform.
“I believe video shopping is the future of retail. It’s early days for us, but we’re inspired by the excitement we’ve seen from creators, brands and customers,” said Wayne Purboo , vice president of Amazon Shoppable Video, in an emailed statement Purbook said Prime Day streams in 2022 had more than 100 million views, with the highest stream peaking at 57,000 concurrent viewers. .