Livestreaming Will Take Retail By Storm in 2021

For many of us, 2020 was a year of endless monotony. For businesses, however, it was a year of immense upheaval, and perhaps no industry has had to adapt rapidly to new consumer behaviors more than the retail sector.

Looking forward to a new year, we can expect to see even more changes as consumers test new channels for discovery and purchases, while brands and retailers seek to position themselves wherever they anticipate shoppers will be.

We asked analysts for their predictions for how retail and ecommerce will change in 2021. These are the five trends they saw in their crystal balls.

1. Livestreams galore

Livestream commerce was a $60 billion industry in 2019, according to Matt Moorut, principal analyst at research firm Gartner. But there’s still room to grow: Only $1 billion of that was spent in the U.S. while the “vast majority” was spent in China.

To wit, Audrey Low, managing director of international accounts at media agency Mindshare China, noted 2020 ecommerce trends “can be summed up in one word alone: livestreaming.” That’s because livestreaming scaled dramatically across China during shopping festivals like 6.18 and 11.11 after the country recovered from the pandemic, particularly for beauty brands.

In 2021, expect to see livestreaming expand beyond China in a more meaningful way.

“What happened [in 2020] was that as soon as everyone was locked down, they had much more time on their hands and wanted more content, and so they actually turned to livestreams,” Moorut said. “And then brands in turn turned to livestreams as a new way of offering product discovery to consumers who are embracing that medium at that time.”

As a result, he sees livestreaming as a potential growth area for platforms like Instagram and Facebook, which have “rapidly innovated this year and are actually adding more options.”

A technology executive who asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to speak on the record pointed to new virtual experiences such as Amazon’s Explore, which allows customers to pay for one-on-one virtual tours like 45 minutes at a wildcat rescue center in Costa Rica or shopping for cookware in Tokyo.

“It’s mental to me there’s not more sponsorship inside of that right now,” he said. “That’s not livestreaming, obviously, but it could be, and I think the video livestream is going to facilitate new types of interaction between brands and shoppers. They just haven’t figured the platforms out yet.”

Indeed, the market is fragmented among players like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Amazon. But these platforms have a vested interest in cracking the nut as livestreaming helps brands connect with consumers.

“Whoever is closest to the consumer controls the conversation,” he added. “So if you can be closest to the consumer with a livestream right at that moment of need, then it’s done. That’s the transaction.”

2. Shopping on social

Following Walmart’s debut on TikTok this month and the launch of Facebook Shops and Instagram Shops earlier in the year, we can also expect to see more social commerce in 2021.

In fact, media company GroupM’s first-ever ecommerce forecast noted social commerce is “an increasingly important component” of retailers’ digital strategies.

“In 2021, we’ll begin to see a world where your favorite influencer is your personal shopper, walking through the aisle of your favorite store and you sit on your phone and basket build with all the products they recommend,” said Jeff Malmad, executive director and lead at Shop+, a unit focused on retail and ecommerce at Mindshare.

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