Walk down any New York City or Beverly Hills street or through any mall, and you’re likely to come across one empty store after another. Traditional retail, once shrouded in prestige, has been in decline for the better part of a decade as e-commerce has become the preferred method of shopping for people all over the world. And with a seemingly limitless collection of items available online and ever-faster shipping, there’s now little need to ever visit a physical store again.
But even with all the convenience and access it offers, there’s one obvious thing missing from the online shopping experience: the curation and guidance offered during a traditional shopping trip. However, in recent years, this shortage in the e-commerce market has given rise to a new approach, live shopping.
Although it has technically been around since the 1980s, with the advent of television channels HSN and QVC, a handful of tech companies have set out to bring live shopping to more contemporary platforms and younger consumers. With the help of cloud-backed software, these vendors have created websites, apps, and shows, where users can watch their favorite vendor, influencer, or presenter present a product and then purchase it without leaving the live stream.
Live e-commerce has already taken a number of countries by storm, prompting a forecast $387 billion this year only in China, and its popularity in the United States is growing by the day. As live shopping platforms like Bambuser and NTWK enter the scene en masse and major companies (think LVMH, Samsung and Nordstrom) forge their own paths in the space, many believe it will soon become the focus dominant to buy globally. level.
For Aaron Levant, co-founder and CEO of NTWRK, the potential was clear long ago. “We launched in October 2018 with a simple idea,” he says. “We wanted a mobile-first, millennial/Gen-Z version of QVC, and we wanted to focus on very niche fan-driven pop culture communities.”
At the time, live shopping was a fairly fringe concept in the US, but Levant and his co-founders were confident that the expert curation found at select specialty stores and conventions would attract customers from across the country, in particular to those who would not otherwise have access to it.
Therefore, NTWRK has partnered with well-known creators and vendors to sell exclusive and sought-after merchandise on its app, from hard-to-find comics and baseball cards to collectible sneakers and streetwear.
“We compete with a wide range of direct-to-consumer brands, other static markets, and traditional retailers, but we put everything under one platform,” Levant says. “We offer an interactive experience, but we also bring five or six different genres together in one cohesive package that you can buy, and I think that’s our big point of differentiation. With our app, you don’t have to go to five or six different websites to find the product mix and talent we selected.”
NTWRK works by implementing cloud-backed technology that uses APIs to sync with sellers’ existing e-commerce back-end database and allows them to stream live on the app. But these vendors aren’t just shop owners and hired hosts; more often than not, they are famous creators or celebrity authorities behind an article or category.
“Odell Backham, Jr. sold his exclusive pair of Nikes, Billie Eilish sold his collectible action figure, and DJ Khaled sold his Beats by Dre headphones,” says Levant. “And unlike Youtube either Instagram Live, where these creators have historically broadcast, we apply native commerce, so you can make a quick purchase directly on NTWRK without having to leave the live stream.”
The live shopping company has seen continuous growth since its launch in 2018 and has doubled in size every year, but while Levant believes NTWRK’s rise in popularity was always going to happen, he knows the COVID-19 pandemic played a role. big role. “The business took off beyond our wildest dreams at that stage, and we didn’t expect that,” he notes.
NTWRK now has thousands of sellers and more than three and a half million users on its platform, and Levant and his co-founders feel validated in the bet they made on live shopping years earlier, but they’re not alone.
After seeing growing consumer demand for a better online shopping experience during the pandemic, Nordstrom launched a live shopping channel in early 2021. “The way the customer shops, from discovery to delivery, has evolved to become increasingly digital, and the pandemic has only further accelerated these changes in behavior as customers become more connected and mobile,” a spokesperson for the retailer says. “We launched this offering with the goal of meeting the ever-changing needs and expectations of our customers and empowering our team with tools to deliver on our commitment to serve our customers where, when and how they want to shop.”
Nordstrom’s live shopping platform hosts dozens of events each month, from highly produced live broadcasts with runway imagery to discussions among industry experts on the latest trends. Each event is shoppable and customers can interact with the host in real time, asking questions about size, color, style or any other specific item. Nordstrom created its channel by partnering with a third-party technology provider, and it’s far from the only retailer to do so. With the increased interest in live shopping, a growing number of software companies are creating and licensing the technology to retailers and brands.
Swedish company Bambuser was one of the first to create software that enables live shopping directly on a retailer’s website, where purchases can remain within the native cart experience. The technology, which hit the market in late 2019, experienced a huge tailwind a few months later as many retailers, with their brick-and-mortar stores shuttered, looked for new ways to engage with customers remotely. Over the past two years, Bambuser has partnered with brands from various industries, including Farfetch, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and several LVMH-owned labels, to meet each other’s needs with live shopping technology.
Since the B2B company’s primary focus is licensing its software to brands and retailers, who can use the platform as they see fit, Bambuser designed its technology to be incredibly versatile. “To broadcast live, all they need is a mobile app, a team to manage the chat and featured product from a dashboard, and the show to be streamed in a custom player on the website,” explains Sophie Abrahamsson, president of Bambuser for the Americas. “The live stream can also be simulcast on social media or partner websites, made possible by proprietary mobile streaming technology and AWS infrastructure.”
While other live shopping providers tend to only target a young demographic, Bambuser believes there really are no limitations to who can use the platform. “Retailers who have a young audience, who are digital and video-savvy, of course have an advantage, and their audiences expect that interactivity,” says Ambrahamsson. “But on the other hand, retailers experiencing long checkout funnels due to complex or expensive product ranges can also greatly benefit from using live shopping as customers gain insight and can ask questions, which ultimately Significantly increases purchase intent.
One such retailer is Samsung, which has partnered with Bambuser to introduce Live eCommerce in May 2021 in an effort to provide an engaging, fun and informative shopping experience while highlighting its newest and most popular products. “This became a new channel to showcase the best of Samsung’s sustainability, connectivity and customization features across an entire ecosystem of products,” says a Samsung spokesperson. “And this format gives the Samsung team the opportunity to answer questions directly from customers via live chat and effectively show our consumers how Samsung’s connectivity features can help simplify their lives.”
It’s this type of interaction that Bambuser believes is behind much of the software’s success. As the current B2B market leader, the company has seen 118% year-over-year growth and 286% year-over-year growth in end-user/audience adoptions.
“We believe live shopping will be an integral part of e-commerce within a few years,” says Abrahamsson. “The end consumer will shop online the same way they already interact online, and video commerce will continue to bridge the gap between physical and online retail experiences. What we are seeing now is just the beginning.”