In 2021, beauty brands embraced livestream shopping on platforms beyond the mainstream social apps.
In addition to apps such as TikTok and Instagram, brands flocked to a contingent of new social shopping and beauty-focused startups. A steadily growing number of brands are partnering with mobile apps including Supergreat, Newness, Flip, Talkshoplive and Shop LIT Live, following a pandemic-led boom in livestream shopping experimentation in the U.S. Companies using these apps include not only digitally native startups, but also established brands and retailers hoping to reach a beauty-focused, mostly Gen-Z audience.
“Consumers respond well to entertaining content and real-time interactions with the brand when making online purchases,” said Mark Jiang, vp of global e-commerce at MAC Cosmetics. The brand began running trials on beauty-focused video shopping app Supergreat in November. So far, it’s partnered with influencers for two live shows and one special promotion event. Its foray onto the niche app is the latest step in its global livestreaming expansion, which also includes hosting live shows on Instagram and its brand sites in several countries. It first launched livestreaming on Alibaba’s Tmall in 2018 for the China market, where livestream shopping has been ubiquitous for years.
“Livestream shopping also helps improve retention and streamlines the sales process by allowing consumers to instantly purchase the products they discover without ever leaving the platform,” said Jiang.
Brands’ adoption of livestream shopping is rising as consumers begin to warm to buying on social platforms. According to eMarketer, the number of U.S. consumers who bought something on a social platform grew by 25% to 80 million in 2020. By the end of this year, the number is expected to reach 90 million. U.S. social commerce sales are expected to grow by 35% to $36 billion this year, which would make up more than 4% of e-commerce sales.
Gen-Z and millennial consumers are prime users of social shopping apps, thanks to their reliance on social content for product research. A 2021 survey by Klarna found that 71% of Gen Z and 69% of millennials in the U.S. say that they’re interested in watching livestream shopping events. According to a survey by The Influencer Marketing Factory, 68% of U.S. Gen-Z consumers watch at least three reviews before making a first-time purchase. And 62% of surveyed Gen Z and millennials said they have made a purchase on their phone after seeing a product in an influencer’s post.
MAC Cosmetics joins a quickly widening group of brands and retailers that have worked with Supergreat in an official capacity. Others include Ulta Beauty, Morphe, E.l.f. Cosmetics, The Ordinary, ColourPop and NARS. It also joins a rising group of beauty brands experimenting with other platforms.
Because most major social platforms — including Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest and Twitter — now offer livestream shopping, these apps face big competition.
“Unless these social commerce platforms can continue offering something that other social media players can’t — like big discounts, better live-streaming video quality, more analytics or insights for hosts and potentially funds to host live-streaming events — they may see strong competition by social media in the next months,” said Alessandro Bogliari, CEO and co-founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory.
Since these apps still have limited numbers of users compared to giants like Instagram and TikTok, they emphasize the engagement of their audience. Flip, for example, last reported that it has 1 million downloads so far. But Agha noted that its most successful livestream had an average watch time of 55 minutes and received over 12,000 comments. Shop LIT Live, meanwhile, has 100,000 users with 30% month-over-month growth. The app emphasizes the spending of its user base: Average order values are $50, and livestreams have a conversion rate of 10%.
While all slightly different in format, these apps have several things in common: They have an incentive structure that allows users to earn points in exchange for free items or discounts, an emphasis on candid and authentic reviews, and a user base coming specifically to learn about products.
Livestreaming on a beauty-focused shopping app is “great because you get reward points for participation or reward points for just showing up. As a result, you have an audience that’s super-engaged for an hour,” said Fiona Chan, founder of makeup brand Youthforia. “It’s hard to find that on Instagram or TikTok, where people come in and come out.” The brand was first featured on Supergreat in April 2021, and Chan hosts livestreams on the platform once a month.
Gen-Z users “are really engaged and really like to try to earn and redeem” loyalty points, said Toby Zhang, founder of livestream shopping app Shop LIT Live, where brands including Covey, Joanna Vargas Skin Care and Blume have hosted livestreams this year.
In the spring of 2021, celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas also took to live beauty shopping app Newness for the first time to promote Joanna Vargas Skin Care. She went on to host weekly lives over the summer. According to Vargas, the brand sees a “robust boost to our online sales and traffic to our website” from livestreams on the app.
Livestreaming “combines the social aspect of shopping with advice, interaction with a community and being at home, which are all things people love,” said Vargas. She said she’s brought high-profile guests onto her show, including celebrity stylist Brad Goreski, celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau and former Kiehl’s owner Jami Heidegger.
Public-facing founders are especially beneficial to a brand’s livestreaming strategy.
“If the founder does the show, it succeeds,” said Noor Agha, founder and CEO of beauty social shopping app Flip. It counts brands including Too Faced, Youth to the People, Supergoop, Hourglass, Covergirl and Bioderma as its official partners. Flip launched in 2018 as a TikTok-style app focused on short videos, and it added livestreaming as a feature in June this year. Since then, it has been ramping up its livestream content. It currently funds eight livestream hosts and plans to up that number to 500 in the first quarter of 2022.
“The objective of the founder coming and doing a live is not to sell people. It’s more about telling why this product was created, what is the value, how they created it, and what’s the story behind it?” said Agha. In addition to influencer content, the app will feature founder lives from major beauty brands in the first quarter of 2022.
A wide range of founders are participating in livestreaming on apps.
“We have lots of amazing brands from entrepreneurs that are just getting started with their brands, and then we also have brands and products from larger, more well-known celebrities and influencers,” said Tyler Faux, co-founder and CEO of Supergreat.
“I get a lot of inspiration watching QVC or HSN, or even some of the Chinese livestreamers,” said Chan. “Livestream selling is a very specific skill. If you watch the style, it’s a very different and specific way of communication.” She predicted that “more founders will develop that skill set.”
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