As COVID-19 challenges the fashion industry worldwide, many brands have hopped onto the latest online trend of livestreaming, which is a way of selling directly to customers through live videos. When the pandemic hit China hardest in February, extended quarantines kept Chinese consumers inside for weeks, and they quickly flocked to e-commerce platforms. Similarly, shopping mall shut-downs have forced brands to turn to online channels. Taobao saw the number of livestream sessions on its app double — a sign that brands were relying more on livestreaming to reach customers.
Despite its recent popularity, livestreaming isn’t new. In China, livestreaming emerged as a promising way to leverage retail products in 2016. By 2019, livestreams on Taobao Live were generating a combined $2.85 billion in sales during the Chinese shopping holiday Singles’ Day. Beyond 2020, when life should return to normal, China will own the world’s largest 5G network, with approximately 110 million users — or seven percent of the country’s population — by the end of 2020. 5G will dramatically increase internet speeds, and thus will promote more interactive content and seamless e-commerce features.
The prospect of livestreaming in China has attracted luxury brands that have traditionally been cautious about e-commerce avenues. Louis Vuitton’s recent livestream debut on the popular social e-commerce platform Little Red Book shows how luxury brands are happy to try out this new type of shopping experience. After observing many brands’ attempts, here’s what we’ve learned about how to successfully livestream to Chinese audiences.
Find the right streamer
Livestreaming is heavily dependent on the charisma of the streamer. In a livestream room, people buy things when they trust the streamer. To some extent, it’s the streamer rather than the product itself that influences an audience to buy.
Therefore, when high-end brands choose a streamer or invite guests to livestream, it should be someone eloquent, persuasive, and capable of building an emotional connection with the audience. And most importantly, the personal image of the streamer should be compatible with the style and position of the brand.
How can a brand ensure this kind of compatibility? In China, it’s important to make sure the streamer has a clean background and a positive image. You don’t want to invite someone who will attract haters and their unfriendly comments that will divert attention away from shopping. On the other hand, inviting a popular idol isn’t necessarily an ideal choice either, since the audience might be attracted by the individual more than the products. The ideal streamer should achieve a fine balance between personal fame and sales skills to bring attention to the products. Louis Vuitton, for example, made the deliberate choice of working with actress Zhong Chuxi, who is a friend of the house as well as the fashion influencer Yvonne Ching. Together, the pair complemented each other, yet neither of them took the audience’s attention away from the products. High-end brands should also consider inviting poised industry professionals like the brand’s CEO, designers, stylists, showroom models, or fashion magazine editors.
Decide on your target audience
Livestreaming in China tends to target younger customers because they spend more time online and are less set in their ways when it comes to shopping as compared to mature buyers who stick with their offline shopping habits. High-end brands aiming to attract audiences with stronger purchasing power should try to differentiate them and cater to their different interests through a variety of themed livestreams. A brand can recreate a sense of exclusivity, much like the art world does when virtual art-fairs like Frieze New York open to VIPs first by requiring two-factor authentication for admission. Similarly, luxury brands may purposely choose not to open livestream to the public and instead tailor special livestreams for VIPs (like inviting VIP clients to join in a livestream featuring new product launches).
Curate the products to sell in the livestream
It’s common for brands to focus more on selecting the ideal streamer when hosting its first livestream. However, a carefully curated list of products plays a decisive role in the success of the event. Xie Yinglan, the renowned agent behind many fashion KOLs in China, points out that the brand should decide on the specific items they’d like to sell first and then seek out appropriate streamers for these products.
Since the age range for livestream audiences in China is relatively young, brands must realize that they have limited purchasing power and should primarily feature affordable items or accessories. During Louis Vuitton’s debut livestream, for example, the session that received the most positive feedback was the one where a streamer demonstrated how to style the brand’s latest scarves in different ways. A young audience can afford most accessories, and they’re more likely to make impulse decisions when buying inexpensive items.
The brand should also take advantage of the unique “see now, buy now” feature in livestreams, which instantly synchronizes the sales data generated by the livestream with the brand’s data. This way, the curated products from the livestream can be used to monitor marketing effects, retrieve instant customer feedback, and understand consumer sentiment through the new products.
Refine the technical details
The overall ambiance of the livestream is essential to its success. When customers watch a livestream, they naturally equate the quality of the show with the value of the brand. Therefore, luxury brands need to make sure that every technical detail is perfect.
Set: The background set-up shouldn’t be too cluttered. Make sure it’s clean and elegant.
Technology: The atmosphere in a livestream room can be fun and casual, but brands still need to build a professional image to earn trust. To establish a professional vibe, the very first task is ensuring that the technology runs smoothly. Consider using more than one camera to capture the product from multiple angles, which helps recreate offline shopping experiences.
Of course, there are bad days when technology refuses to cooperate. Mr. Jiliang, a fashion blogger with ample experience in livestreaming, described such an instance with Jing Daily. When his internet connection was off for a minute, Jiliang improvised by saying that the large flow of comments posted by passionate viewers had “crushed” the internet, while his colleagues focused on fixing the connection issue. By doing this, he held the attention of his audience during this unexpected failure, proving exactly why streamers need to have a quick wit and the ability to improvise.
Script: Plan the script carefully, but also embrace spontaneity. The streamer should aim to build authentic connections with the audience, so she can let go and deviate from the script if appropriate, making for a more sincere and engaging atmosphere.
Tone: The tone of the streamer can be more slow-paced and relaxed since a successful livestream from high-end brands should create an ambiance of one-on-one conversation.
Consistency: The streamer should keep in mind that many audiences join in the middle of the livestream and don’t know the previous content, so they should recap from time to time to ensure consistency.
These tips should help luxury brands initiate livestreams in China with confidence, but a livestream doesn’t guarantee better sales or a heightened reputation. In fact, a livestream done improperly can create unintended consequences. In a Chinese context, one misplaced expression could work against the brand, and negative customer feedback and high return rates have become increasingly serious issues for brands that mismanaged their livestreams. The bottom line? A brand must ensure that its livestream isn’t at risk of damaging the brand’s equity.
Additional reporting by Ruonan Zheng.