Inside a luxury designer store in China, a pretty girl rushes past gushing about a pair of heels she’s obsessed with. She then tries on a flowy dress she took from the mannequin. Surprisingly, she isn’t accompanied by her squad of friends, but by a tripod, her smartphone, and the thousands of fans watching her. Among digital marketers, retailers, and the e-commerce industry there are whispers of when livestream shopping will be picked up in the UK, Europe, and the US. And, well, why wouldn’t it? According to the 2018 Deloitte report, it’s a £422 billion pounds worthy market—and it only started last year! So shouldn’t the question be not when but will live stream shopping be as successful in the west?
A combination of a YouTube clothing haul and the home shopping network, livestream shopping consists of a livestream video of an influencer, or key opinion leaders (KOLs) as they’re called in the East, where they try on clothes, shoes, and other accessories. It can range from Hermès Birkin bags to fast fashion leggings. While they’re modelling and testing out the products, KOLs answer their fans’ questions, give advice on how to style items or talk about the process of how the products are made. The video can last from an hour to as long as six hours or sometimes even more with viewers encouraged to buy items at any time through a purchasing link without even having to leave the livestream.
Since 2018, livestream e-commerce has been taking over the mobile phones and computer screens of Chinese millennials and Gen Zers with some of their own e-commerce giants, such as Alibaba and JD, already making their livestream channels. This explosive phenomenon has not been lost on western eyes, with many of our e-commerce giants, such as Amazon, finally implementing their own channels.
The possibilities of this trend fully integrating western markets could change how we see retail and e-commerce. Livestreaming is fast, convenient, and, most importantly, it’s utterly transparent. Seeing clothes tried on in real-time or watching a jeweller shucking oysters to hand-select pearls for a necklace—this type of behind-the-scenes content makes a product way more valuable when you know who promotes it and where it’s coming from. It cuts away the photoshopped algorithm-biased bullshit and lets you see things as they are. In a time when there have been too many online shopping fails and deception about what products are made of—remember Missguided’s faux fur ending up being cat fur?—livestreaming makes the shopping experience much more transparent, and trustworthy.
From a brick and mortar retail perspective, this may be a new way of customer service for retail professionals as well, because not only will you have to be a good seller in-person, but also in front of a camera to thousands of anons watching. Selling to a live audience is a completely different ballgame compared to talking to someone one-on-one. You have to be bubbly and informative all while trying on as many as 50 to 100 outfits in one video.
As everyone from marketing firms to e-commerce brands is itching to get in on the livestream hype, a few stay sceptical of this supposed success that will blow up in the west. Why? Because of mukbangs. If you don’t know what a mukbang is, it’s a livestream eating trend that went viral a few years ago. The star of the video would usually be an attractive and petite girl who eats an enormous amount of food while talking to fans and describing the dishes. When the trend migrated to the west, it didn’t quite translate as well as its Korean counterpart. The food being ingurgitated didn’t look as appetising and the western mukbangs tried too hard to emulate Korean ones, which made them less authentic.
Western and eastern internet trends, as well as shopping behaviours, are very different. Even the influencer infrastructure doesn’t operate in the same way. In China, the influencer industry, or KOL industry, is a regimented legitimate industry, unlike in the US or the UK, where influencers are seen as independent contractors. KOLs work with agencies under a systemised hierarchy that distinguishes KOLs based on popularity if they’re a celebrity, industry expert or micro-influencer, and their ability to sell.
In such a system, not only is the star involved, but also a team of people working behind the scenes. They have to research popular products and read reviews, test them, and make sure brand partnerships align with the KOL’s image—all before the video goes live. This is because a KOL’s word is considered truth, and promoting a faulty item or something off-brand could mean a ruined reputation, and thousands of pounds lost. They don’t feature an item just to be #sponsored. It’s a daunting work that western influencers might not be able to embrace entirely.
The amount of preparation that is put in front and behind the camera is overwhelming for just one person, from hair and makeup to the strict product vetting process, in addition to keeping cool under pressure, and simultaneously being bubbly and persuasive when selling to hoards of viewers. Refraining from betraying your integrity by promoting off-brand items for easy sponsored money and making sure you keep your reputation intact is another aspect to keep in mind for young livestreamers. This job is not for the faint of heart or cavalier and is not just about being insta famous. For now, it is pure transparency—as it’s live, with many livestreamers scrutinous about who they partner with for their videos. This is an of-the-moment retail trend, but how long will it last? Hopefully, this could be the answer to unifying e-commerce with brick and mortar retail, and bringing trust back into your shopping cart.
For some unknown reason, I keep getting targeted ads asking me to sign up to become an ‘Amazon Influencer’. At first, I was taken aback—does Amazon, with its owner Jeff Bezos literally being the richest man in the world, really need the extra help in marketing and promotion from social media influencers?
For the sake of this article (that’s what I’d told myself), I tried to sign up and see what the big deal is. Of course, as I only have around 770 followers on Instagram, I did not meet “the eligibility requirements”, and was asked by Amazon to apply once I’ve increased my “level of influence” within social media—a reminder of the daily realities of my life as a non-insta-famous Gen Z’er. In order to set up an Amazon Influencer profile, also known as the “Amazon Influencer Programme”, you need to have an Amazon account, as well as either a Facebook, Youtube, Twitter or Instagram one and be successful at it, too, as Amazon states it looks at the number of your followers and other engagement metrics of your social media presence (purchasing fake followers won’t cut it, sorry). Once approved, the influencer is to set up their own Amazon ‘shop’ with a custom URL, recommending thousands of products, all in one spot. The influencer would then receive a commission for whatever they manage to sell.
So what’s the deal with Amazon’s decision to start using social media influencers as a marketing tool? Jeff Bezos seems to possess the ability to capitalise on literally anything, so this doesn’t come as a surprise. Over the years, the word ‘influencer’ has acquired a number of negative connotations, with people instantly rolling their eyes once they hear it. And yet, influencer marketing works, and it is actually very effective—Fyre festival, for example, is a painful proof of how much influencer marketing works. As much of a failure as it was, it would have never gained as much momentum if not for the social media influencers who marketed it (and are now being sued over this).
But who exactly is Amazon’s programme targetubg and how is it beneficial? Laura Fuentes is a chef, food blogger, and mum of three, and her Instagram account @momables has over 43.8K followers. She is also an Amazon Influencer and her shop comprises of different kitchen utensils and items, from tupperwares to cookbooks and supplements, and claims that since joining the programme, she has “seen an increase in affiliate sales revenue by 30 percent.” Laura promotes the exact type of products most of us buy on Amazon anyway, and as she says, “it is an easy way to serve your community by providing them with an easy and trusted source.” In other words, it does essentially benefit all three, Laura, the buyers, and the company.
Personally, I have never even considered Amazon when shopping for clothes, and neither did most people I know. There are so many options on the site that it is difficult to find the right piece, which is why so many people simply don’t bother. This is where Amazon fashion influencers come in. @colette.prime’s entire wardrobe allegedly consists of Amazon fashion, and Amazon fashion only. She began her fashion blog as a means to show the possibilities of engaging in fashion while also being able to afford it, which is how she came to Amazon. Her goal is to “take the best out of these options and put it onto one page”, enabling Amazon users to a much easier shopping experience. She, however, no longer works for Amazon exclusively.
This year, Amazon also launched the Amazon “drop”, consisting of limited-edition fashion collections designed by global influencers. It is uncertain why the company chooses to collaborate with influencers rather than giving a platform for emerging designers; nevertheless, once the collection drops, the Amazon drop user has 30 hours to shop until these items disappear forever. Amazon claims the ‘drop’ to be sustainable, as it doesn’t even start to make the piece until it is purchased in order to reduce waste. I applaud Amazon for this attempt to shift toward the right direction, but it does not make up for the years of environmental damage caused by excessive and unnecessary packaging or the CO2 emissions from rapid transportation.
It is good to see that Amazon can help working mothers like Laura or emerging fashion entrepreneurs like Colette gain revenue and essentially improve their lives for the better, but what about their factory workers? Just last month, Amazon was under fire over the mistreatment of factory workers in the U.K. warehouses, when Amazon created what seems to be an army of Twitter bots disguised as warehouse workers claiming just how much they love their jobs—exposed through a series of tweets. So how ethical is it to promote this new branch of the brand, really?
While we question the intentions of the brand and its decisions, the Amazon Influencer Programme is actually something good, and has the potential to benefit millions—the company just needs to rearrange a number of structures within for it to work. Amazon, the ball is in your court.