In her Miami home, Miriam Sandler spends a few hours each week doing the simple activities that allowed her husband, Mark, to quit his job as an investment banker. The couple fills a laundry basket with toys and gadgets that have improved the lives of their three young daughters. In their bedroom, Mark adjusts the ring light while Miriam arranges everything within reach on a small table in the corner.
A few minutes later, she taps the phone twice, looks into the camera, and goes live — not on the Home Shopping Network or QVC, but on Amazon.com.
“I will introduce myself. I’m Miriam Sandler and I’m the face of @mothercould,” Sandler told the camera on Feb. 5 before beginning her performances. “So the first product I’m going to talk about is actually one of my favorite cleansers. It’s the twist brush. It’s already 84% claimed, so it’s a lightning deal.”
Brand Sandler @mothercould has 1.2 million followers on Instagram and 730,000 on TikTok, where her videos have garnered 11.7 billion views. Before she goes live on Amazon to sell her favorite products, she lets her followers know on other platforms.
“I don’t make money off of any other platform that you can work on,” Sandler said. “Everyone who comes to Amazon Live is essentially coming to buy something. That’s what they’re there for.”
Live shopping has taken China by storm in the past three years. The Chinese retail giant Alibaba launched its live streaming app Taobao Live in 2016. When the pandemic stopped buyers in 2020, it increased. One example came in the first 30 minutes of China’s annual Singles Day shopping festival in 2020, when Taobao’s live streams generated $7.5 billion in transactions, a 400% jump from last year. In the same year, China’s live shopping market was valued at $171 billion and is estimated to grow to $423 billion by 2022. In the US, TikTok, Amazon, Walmart, Shopify and YouTube are included in the game.
“People are excited about what you’re seeing in China, where you’re seeing really, really high conversion rates on some of these impressions, much higher than maybe on a regular website. In some cases you see up to 40%. You can see much lower return rates because people know what they got,” said Daniel Debow, vice president of product at Shopify, which launched live shopping capabilities from YouTube in July.
A live streamer sells handbags on TikTok on TikTok Livestreaming e-commerce site in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China on October 12, 2021.
VCG/VCG via Getty Images
China has a rapidly growing ecosystem of live streaming apps, such as TikTok’s sister app Douyin and Pinduoduo, known for the lowest prices. Live broadcasters in China, known as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), have made huge fortunes, and there are entire bootcamps dedicated to the passion of a career as a trade broadcaster.
“KOLs out there have millions and millions and millions of followers, so even if 10% show up, it’s still a million. This is not the case in the US and Europe,” said Quinh Mai, CEO of online marketing agency Qulture.
Indeed, live shopping in the US has grown much more slowly than in China. Of Chinese consumers surveyed by Coresight Research, 74% said they purchased products via live streaming with the option to purchase in 2022. In the US, 78% said they had never watched it.
“People want to buy goods with value or products that they can’t get anywhere else. And that’s really what’s at the heart of live shopping in the US. This is very different from China, which only concerns the mass population,” Mai said. .
Alibaba’s Taobao Live, with a 35% market share, remains the world’s largest player in live commerce. But the last few years have seen a flurry of US companies investing in retail businesses as well. The first among them was Amazon, which introduced direct purchases in 2016.
On Amazon Live, influencers pitch products live from the comfort of their homes. The audience can react with emojis or stars. A chat window allows them to ask questions that the host can answer live, and there’s a built-in link to each product to make shopping simple.
Tiana Young Morris tries on wigs and reviews them in a video that went viral in 2020.
Tiana Young Morris
Tiana Young Morris first went viral in 2020 for videos of her trying on wigs and then reviewing them.
“I thought, ‘Oh, there are a lot of people who are going to buy the product I’ve recommended. I need to see how I can make money from this?” And Amazon just makes it so easy for you to sign up for the Influencer program,” Young Morris said.
After signing up for the Amazon Influencer program, creators get their own storefronts where Amazon users can follow them, receiving alerts when they go live. Before starting her career as a content creator, Morris said she was making about $110,000 as a private attorney.
“I’m making about six times that now,” Young Morris said. “I really, really enjoy doing it. I earn so much that I don’t need to [work as a lawyer] more”.
Amazon Live creators earn the most from commissions, which are typically less than 10% of sales from live clicks, although a rare category can reach 20%. Amazon also offers some creators a flat fee for regular live streams, while top creators can earn extra from brands that pay for special sponsored live streams.
Young Morris now sells fashion, beauty and skin care products on Amazon Live and hosts exclusive sponsored live streams with major brands such as Dove. Amazon Live does not disclose the number of followers, but its TikTok account boasts about 635,000 followers.
Amazon continued its investment in live shopping with the launch of Amazon Live in India in September.
TikTok, YouTube and Meta
Social platforms are also investing heavily in this trend. TikTok, owned by ByteDance, partnered with Walmart for an hour-long live stream in 2020 where TikTok users could buy Walmart fashion items presented by creators. The duo hosted another live stream in 2021, following a reported first event that generated seven times more views than expected and grew Walmart TikTok by 25%.
“I think TikTok will be able to overtake everyone else because they have so many users right now,” Mai said. “Every time you use the platform, it learns your behavior, learns your interests and serves you what it thinks you like.”
But buyers on TikTok in the US currently have to exit the app to make a purchase, eliminating a large potential revenue stream. In the fall, TikTok began testing a new feature in the US called TikTok Shop, which allows users to make purchases directly within the app. It’s currently invite-only for creators and sellers in the US, but it’s already launched in Southeast Asia and the UK. TikTok is currently facing a ban in several states due to concerns that it may transfer user data to China.
Meanwhile, YouTube’s recently expanded live shopping capabilities allow shoppers to shop without ever leaving the platform. Sportswear brand founder Cassie Ho of @Blogilates and @PopFlex had her second best-selling hour of the year promoting her products on YouTube in November.
“At the moment we have about 15 million followers across all my social platforms and subscribers everywhere and on YouTube, over 2 billion views. And from a sales perspective, PopFlex is an eight-figure business on its own, and then Blogilates on its own is an eight-figure business,” Ho said.
There are also several startups developing new American platforms entirely dedicated to live shopping. There’s Ntwrk, which specializes in sneakers and collectibles, and Supergreat and Trendio for beauty products. The biggest of these is TalkShopLive, where Walmart has hosted 150 live shopping events in 2022, with celebrities such as Dolly Parton, Oprah Winfrey and Tim Tebow appearing live.
Meta, on the other hand, reduces the focus on shopping. It stopped direct shopping on Facebook in October and removed the Shop tab from Instagram’s navigation bar earlier this month.
In China, the government is tightening controls on private businesses, including live shopping. Some of live shopping’s biggest superstars have been fined or taken sudden breaks without warning.