live shopping, affiliate marketing, social media marketing. content marketing

Why have the US and UK not embraced Asia’s live shopping “chokehold”?

Live shopping has swept across Asian countries, particularly China, since 2020. That year is likely to sound familiar to you, right? That’s because it’s no coincidence. Lockdowns, especially the particularly strict lockdowns of the Chinese government helped spur the live shopping trend into a bona fide way of life. This is a trend that has never let go of the East.

And yet, it’s never taken hold of the West. There have been attempts, and there have been launches on platforms to accommodate it, but they were dropped as fast as they were enacted, at least in the West.

So, what gives? Why have the UK and the US been stalling on this innovative new way to market? Can we expect to see a change in the future? Take a look at our theories on what is happening with live shopping and what could happen in the future.

What is live shopping?

Live shopping is what you get when you mix retail and Twitch, essentially. Or retail and YouTube, or retail and TikTok live. Imagine live-streamed Shein hauls. A host, usually an affiliate or influencer, is showing off items that you, the viewer can buy. Maybe they bought those items themselves, or maybe they were offered by a brand, but the concept is pretty much affiliates on live stream.

So, what’s the issue?

All of that isn’t so foreign to a Western audience. We watch shopping hauls, we watch brands on Twitch, building PCs or demonstrating whatever they sell, with brand deals interrupting gaming sessions, and chat streamers talking about what they’re wearing. It’s a lot more casual, sure, and maybe that’s the defining feature, but it’s there in almost every aspect of streaming.

And yet, taking a subtext and making it text doesn’t seem to appeal to Western audiences. Instagram rolled out a live shopping feature in late 2022, complete with product tagging, and then got rid of it again on March 16 of this year.

And bits and pieces of it are all over platforms like Instagram. Whether you’re looking at posts, reels, stories, etc., you’re going to be marketed to. “Click here, follow the link, subscribe to win,” and more infect just about every post that isn’t your cousin’s new baby pictures.

Maybe Western audiences simply don’t have the stomach for that kind of marketing. The internet is a place where Reddit users will destroy a post that says “I made this. Give it some love” but promote the same post that is captioned “My elderly grandpa made this. Give it some love”. We don’t like knowing so blatantly that we are being marketed to.

But maybe it’s an issue of demographic. Offline, live shopping could be compared to the cable shopping channels, which are hugely popular, but perhaps with not the same demographic. It’s a running gag that the elderly watch the shopping channels and a known fact that cable is going out with the younger generations preferring streaming and content.

And along the same lines, we know that Gen Z appreciates authenticity, and there is something distinctly unauthentic about being sold to. They still sit through it, but in small doses, as outlined. Maybe an entire live stream is simply too much at once.

Could that change?

It’s always possible. Big wigs in the industry are excited by the recent change in online shopping habits, with indicators like users’ moving away from the high street and online shopping in favour of social media shopping. Users are finding and researching what they want to buy on social media, so wouldn’t it just make sense to simplify the process in a live stream?

We would say, let the influencers lead the way here. There are plenty of fashion/retail-themed influencers, and they’re likely to discover streaming eventually. Maybe it won’t be as instantaneous as China, maybe it’ll take enough big influencers taking a chance, with enough affiliate partnerships to fill a few hours on stream, maybe the trend will catch on and we’ll all end up at the same finish line but at different times.

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