Livestream shopping is a $125 billion market in China. Now, retailers like JCPenney are banking on it blowing up in the US.

  • Livestream shopping, a $125 billion market in China, is beginning to take off in the US.
  • JCPenney recently launched JCP Live, a livestream shopping show, in time for the holiday shopping season. 
  • Other retailers are hopping on the trend, and tech companies have created platforms that make it easier for even small businesses to try. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

During a recent JCP Live stream, the influencer who goes by Taryn Truly gestured toward a Sharper Image S'mores Maker.

"We're starting off with my very favorite thing, because I'm keeping this for myself," she said.

The kitchen gadget was on a special sale on JCPenney's website that day, for $29.98, "which is a steal of a deal," Taryn said.

With JCP Live, an initiative the department store launched at the beginning of the holiday shopping season, bloggers and other influencers film live segments from their own homes, where they show off a curated selection of products in specific categories. The videos are hosted on JCPenney's website and YouTube and Facebook pages. 

JCPenney's new digital approach allows for immediate dialogue with viewers.

"Love s'mores all year round!" one viewer comments on the retailer's YouTube page's live chat function.

"OMG TarynTruly!" says another. 

Taryn's demonstration of the s'mores maker happened during a JCP Live segment about tech gifts for the holidays, but there have also been segments about Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals and holiday entertaining essentials. JCP Live has gotten more of an audience on Facebook, where shows have notched up to 50,000 views. 

"The trend of livestreaming was on the rise even before we all became more digitally connected due to the pandemic,"  Truett Horne, chief transformation officer at JCPenney, said to Business Insider. "We leveraged that trend and designed JCP Live to bring our shoppers a unique digital experience that revealed our hottest holiday deals and gifts."

He added: "This livestreamed show has created an inspiring, shared experience through a curated selection of products each week. Our customers see constant newness to easily shop thousands of deals and buy gifts for everyone on their list."

JCP Live will continue "on a regular basis into next year," according to Horne.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/C4dWGUqR1hU

 

A multibillion-dollar market

Already a $125 billion market in China, according to advisory and research firm Coresight Research, livestream shopping is just beginning to catch on in the US. Coresight estimates that livestreaming is currently responsible for about $5 billion in sales in the US. 

But for retailers, it offers a ton of benefits. 

"I don't know if there is any downside, honestly," Deborah Weinswig, CEO and founder of Coresight, said to Business Insider.  

From the retailers' perspective, it's beneficial to focus only on products that are currently in stock, as opposed to a traditional e-commerce site that might be promoting limited or soon-to-launch inventory. Livestreamers can use data on viewers' past purchases to personalize the programming to their needs and better convert sales. And, it gives retailers an opportunity to connect with customers on a more personal level. 

Read more: How startup Narvar has raised $64 million to capitalize on the explosion of returns, partnering with 800 retailers like Levi's, Sephora, and Patagonia

Influencers stand to benefit, too, as hosting a livestream could help them grow their audience and build loyalty. 

Consumers get to see products from multiple angles and hear reviews from sources they trust, which could prove especially helpful in a time when many are shopping online for the first time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated retail's move to e-commerce, Weinswig said it's likely livestreaming would have caught on with American consumers either way. 

"Certainly in the pandemic, we're all looking for ways to be entertained, but I think it goes beyond that," she said. "The technology has been coming in this direction." 

Amazon, for example, launched a livestreaming shopping channel called Amazon Live about five years ago. In 2019, it launched the Amazon Live Creator app for brands to host their own livestreams on its platform. This year, Amazon Live Creator was opened up to influencers. 

This comes as lesser-known networks like TalkShopLive, BrandLive, and CommentSold are thriving during the pandemic, Bloomberg reported in September. Brands like Anne Klein and Tommy Hilfiger have experimented with livestreams as well. And, Facebook, Instagram, and Shopify all have their own live shopping features. 

Weinswig added that livestreams are relatively easy for retailers to launch, making them accessible even to small business owners. 

"Say you're a boutique owner, and you've got your VIP clients. You let them know about your upcoming livestream, and if you're good at it, it could start to build and become its own tour de force," she said. 

A melding of TikTok and QVC or HSN

Suketu Gandhi, partner and leader for digital supply chain at strategy and management consulting firm Kearney, said he thinks of livestream shopping as essentially combining TikTok and shopping channels like HSN or QVC.

Like HSN, the concept is highly visual, and it often relies on the idea that what matters is who is pitching the product, much like the influencer economy on social media platforms like TikTok. 

"You have a consumer that is trained to watch things on the screen, good, bad, ugly, again and again, for a long period of time, and you have the technology," Gandhi said to Business Insider. 

Community is an important aspect as well. 

"You want a group experience. You want people to experience things together," Gandhi said, pointing to the popularity of livestreaming in the video game world on platforms like Amazon-owned Twitch. 

Gandhi and Weinswig both said beauty is a category where livestreaming has a lot of potential to succeed. Weinswig added that home goods have performed shockingly well, as have consumables. 

They agreed though that there is at least one area where the US has yet to catch up to China, though: payments.  

"It feels like we are a generation behind. The Chinese never truly had a mall culture the way we have here," Gandhi said. "Mobile adoption was a much bigger hockey stick than what we have here." 

In China, mobile payment systems have already been in place to make shopping online and by phone easy, he added. In the US, consumers are, for the most part, still taking their credit cards out to make their online purchases.

"I think that we'll continue to see payments evolve, but for right now, I think they're still that challenge," Weinswig said.

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