Woman doing a livestreamed video selling clothing.
Brands across a variety of sectors are discovering new ways to tap into social commerce, through digital product drops and livestreamed events. — Getty Images/goc

Why it matters:

  • U.S. retail social commerce sales will rise by 34.8% to $36.09 billion this year, representing 4.3% of all retail e-commerce sales, according to eMarketer.
  • Apparel/accessories remain the largest category for social commerce, but consumer electronics, cosmetics, home decor and consumer goods are also key merchandise segments.
  • Products purchased during live shows see an almost 50% reduction in returns resulting in happier customers and better sales numbers, according to LiveShelf data.

Pandemic protocols may have had lasting ripple effects on nearly every industry, but arguably none so much as retail and e-commerce.

We’ve witnessed everything from panic-buying of toilet paper in stores and online, to a shift in purchasing patterns to products like “mascara for the mask era” and athleisure for all those virtual business meetings. And let’s not forget that now virtually every part of the shopping experience can be contactless — from browsing to payment to delivery.

And in the spirit of spending so much time living, working and shopping in the virtual realm, it’s no surprise that brands have embraced social commerce, featuring their products on Facebook, Instagram and even TikTok like never before.

Indeed, data from eMarketer reveals that the sheer number of shoppers on social commerce platforms last year grew 25.2% to 80.1 million. That number is expected to accelerate an additional 12.9% to 90.4 million in 2021.

Social commerce is defined as products or services ordered by buying directly on a social platform such as Instagram or by clicking links on a social network that lead to a retailer’s checkout screen.

Apparel/accessories remain the largest category for social commerce, but consumer electronics, cosmetics, home decor and consumer goods are also key categories, as brands featuring “new and differentiated products and/or aspirational imagery are best suited for the social commerce environment,” according to eMarketer analysis.

More recently, brands are testing new ways for their customers to social shop by hosting digital drops, whereby shoppers line up virtually to score exclusive access to products and livestream events on their own e-commerce platforms.

[Read here for a complete guide to selling online.]

Betabrand: ‘Half of our sales are now driven by livestream events’

The way Betabrand founder and CEO Chris Lindland sees it, this is a natural outgrowth of the menswear startup’s focus on engaging its consumers through crowdsourced product development and is the future of social shopping.

Stephanie Haller, head of product marketing and design at LiveShelf, a social commerce platform for brands, told CO— “We're seeing the most potential for exponential growth [with] high-quality retailers turning to live commerce platforms where products can be shown off live.”

Lindland says Betabrand has been livestreaming new product drops since 2019. Broadcasting twice weekly, Betabrand is fast approaching the airing of its 400th show.

“Half of our sales are now driven by and through livestream events, which is up five times from last year,” Lindland told CO—.“We now direct all homepage and most email and SMS [text-driven] traffic to live events.”

According to LiveShelf data, this is a trend. Haller also observed, “Products bought during live shows see an almost 50% reduction in returns resulting in happier customers and better sales numbers.”

For Betabrand, the growth is real, but finessing social selling wasn’t immediate. Lindland was inspired by what he’d seen of Chinese social commerce, a livestream-selling pioneer, as well as the homegrown QVC television shopping experience. “I resolved to make every Betabrand product launch an equally infectious, hyper-interactive live community celebration,” he wrote in a blog post, which he said necessitated revamping the entire organization from “supply chain to customer service — to amplify this experience.”

[Read here for six tools for selling on social media.]

Half of our sales are now driven by and through livestream events, which is up five times from last year.

Chris Lindland, founder and CEO, Betabrand

Time spent on crafting content generates rewards

The eMarketer report stated that brands aiming to increase their social commerce sales need to focus on creative content and audience amplification as well as converting browsers/watchers to buyers.

But according to Haller, “The most common mistake brands make is underestimating the amount of time and resources it takes to launch a successful social commerce campaign.” She says that if a brand is going to spend time on crafting and launching videos on TikTok, with a similar time commitment they can implement live commerce, which will ramp up shoppers’ urge to buy—especially limited-edition products.

“Social commerce is the monetization of FOMO (fear of missing out) and you have to embrace this to truly see standout success like Kim Kardashian did in China,” said Haller.

She’s referring to the time in 2019 when the reality TV star took to selling her KKW perfumes on a livestream channel on China’s e-commerce platform Taobao with Chinese influencer Viya. An Alibaba report found that 150,000 bottles were sold in seconds.

But you don’t have to be a high-profile celebrity to score with social shopping. As Lindland noted, “Some of the most popular personalities on our show have been designers and retail salespeople. Staff members can speak to every aspect of your business and drop factoids that fans will gobble up.” Both Lululemon and Glossier have capitalized on this by featuring their associates doing workouts and product demos respectively.

Limited-edition product promotions to light a buying frenzy via ‘digital drops’

Lindland says another key for brands to consider is merchandising new products via digital drops. Betabrand is just one of many brands doing this to grow its buyer base on the promise of a sneak exclusive peek at the latest releases.

Mac beauty brand launched Mac Underground last year to offer its community of cosmetic devotees similar access to limited edition products. The first, a special highlighter compact released to coincide with Pride Month, sold completely out of 1,000 units in under an hour.

Lindland advises brands that want to dip their toe into digital drops to make sure consumers sign up for live product drop events and are fired up prior to the launch, “so it becomes appointment shopping,” he said.

Haller said that brands can take it a step further with preorders. “Preorders have been more successful when showcased during a live show due to the seamless shopping cart integration instead of driving customers to an offsite link multiple times,” he said.

Either way, the brand can also capture customer data and preferences to deliver more targeted product offers in the future.

Customer service is still king

Lindland suggested making live events a regular thing “so consumers can develop a relationship with the hosts and other people who shop.” And, he said, the live hosts should be the shopper’s first point of contact for any questions to make the experience as seamless as possible.

But live hosts can’t juggle it all, he said. “Next best is [to use] customer service staff who can quickly reply and provide useful information and links,” he said, “Speed counts.”

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