Retail-streaming is the future of e-commerce and will save retail

The CEO of made $8.4 million selling travel packages through five hour-long live stream sessions
9 June 2020

Lights, camera and action. Source: Shutterstock

  • Forrester forecasts US retail to suffer from US$321 billion loss this year
  • Retail-streaming to be a game changer for e-commerce
  • CEOs are emerging as the new faces of retail-streams and it seems to be working

To date, the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed retail operations and supply chains globally.

Despite lockdown measures being lifted in many countries and economies showing the first glimmers of recovery, market research outfit Forrester predicts that the US retail sector can expect to see US$321 billion in losses this year when compared to gross sales from 2019. Forrester is also predicting that it will take four years for retailers to get back to and eventually overtake pre-pandemic sales figures. 

Despite the drastic drop in retail sales due to lockdown measures, retailers are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel with retail-streaming rapidly becoming the growing e-commerce channel of choice. 

Tech-savvy shoppers and retailers were quick to move and adapt to digital platforms, with retail-streaming acting as the bridge for retailers to sell and promote their products to consumers directly.

What’s more promising is that experts are predicting that the substantial shrink in brick-and-mortar stores will only act as a supercharge for retail-streaming in a post-pandemic world

Going live: Retail-streaming 

Retail-streams may seem like an idea born out of our recent circumstances, but it’s actually a lot more like the natural evolution of the nostalgic “As Seen on TV” commercials.

You remember! Oh, some of you don’t? Here, an example below, Gen Z:

While you may no longer be wondering why you need a food dehydrator in your life at 3am, the conventions of the “As Seen on TV” commercials are still there, only they’ve been repackaged and now live on web. They’re the multi-vendor marketplace channels that offer product manufacturers and vendors slots to advertise their inventory online to you. Including the stuff that used to be exclusively “As Seen on TV,” minus the actual television. 

Retail-streams and ‘As Seen on TV’ commercials share a few similarities, but what we’re also seeing is an underlying evolution of consumer trends and how technology in shaping these new habits. 

Both concepts advertise products in front of live audiences, with real-interactions – those toll-free telephone calls are now emojis on the screen – and it’s happening in real-time.

However, they differ greatly when it comes to how audiences consume the content. Present-day retail-streams have consumers turning to their mobile phones, tablets, or computers to access live streams; “As Seen on TV” commercials are limited to their specific broadcast times on static television sets.  

The ubiquity of mobile devices acts as the catalyst feeding the fierce competition among retailers fighting for consumer attention. Mobile users are becoming more discerning – conscious consumerism is on the rise. Shoppers are not only becoming more aware of the products they choose but also they’re also keeping track of the time they spend on devices. This leaves retailers with the heavy tasks of capturing the attention of consumers and keeping them engaged with products with an even smaller window.

In the context of “As Seen on TV” marketing strategies, securing that “golden hour” of advertising is the perennial ticket to getting a higher audience reach and more product sales. 

Influencers and celebrities are the more conventional faces you see used for retail-streaming. However, in China we’re beginning to see a new group of faces schilling products – C-suite members are now making appearances in front of live cameras to talk to their audience.

James Liang, the executive chairman and former CEO of (an international online travel agency), made US$8.4 million selling travel packages through five hour-long live stream sessions

The chairwoman of Gree Electric, Dong Ming Zhu, used her face and presence to sell more than US$43.8 million worth of home appliances in another live stream event, this one lasting three hours.

And if this seems familiar – where a brand uses their head to sell goods – well, it’s because we’ve seen it before:

The popularity of retail-streaming has also found its way to highly-anticipated events like Shanghai Fashion Week (SHFW), which saw a partnership with e-commerce giant Alibaba to broadcast the entire runway show on Taobao, enabling consumers to pre-order designer pieces straight off the runway. 

Clearly, retail-streaming is an emerging space that businesses are increasingly tapping into as the retail sector experiences a tectonic shift in accommodating the ‘new normal’ during the pandemic and beyond.