Virtual Shopper, social selling goods through live streaming

I included in my last newsletter a twitter thread that shared a proposal about which would be the technologies that would drive the future online sales. It was Connie Chan, investor, and partner at a16z, who pointed out that Amazon’s next competitor would be a social or video app, social selling, and live streaming.

Social selling is not new, nor are live streaming platforms and services. And it sounds strange to say that the future Amazon would be a social and video App, while big players like Facebook and Shopify are moving towards the shopping apps. Let’s understand why it could matter in the future.

Why social and video features could play an important role?

What Connie is highlighting is the fact that shopping in real life is funny, and it is social. So it makes sense to think that in order to evolve the customer shopping online experience, the main goal would be to close the gap from a text-based search experience to a live search and shared experience. To offer a combination of e-commerce and entertainment.

Live streaming could provide this kind of experience. People are able to see the products in detail, exchange questions and answers realtime, and receive more accurate recommendations. From a seller point of view, sales employees can meet goals like offering services, upselling, cross-selling, etc. If we add the social component, the customers will be able to share or even go shopping altogether, a truly engaging experience.

An online product page can work its usability, its sense of urgency, its valuable content, recommendations, related products, but nothing compares to a sales employee who knows the product and how to sell it. IMHO the cold online experience cannot compare to a charming human and social experience.

Why are apps investing in this features?

Because users spend more time in the apps, it is the evolution from product search to product discovery, and so Ads worth more. Also, payments are a big business, you could see Shopify example where Merchant Solutions are up to 60% of its quarterly revenue.

Remembering one of the Long Tail rules, let customers do the work. It is cheaper and more efficient than hiring someone. The social component could even be more profitable, customers have unlimited energy and time. Influencers can help in the growth while monetizing their own brand, but customers could also influence their environment.

You could also imagine that Millenials prefer video content to make a decision about purchasing a service or product. But also a recent report from Accenture shows that more than 70% of Chinese Gen Z consumers prefer buying products directly from social media, compared to a global average of 44%.

Is China taking the lead?

I am not an expert, but the answer seems to be “yes”. I will share the insights from Connie. In her opinion and experience, China is a mature market regarding this combination of live streaming with e-commerce and social media.

According also to this Forbes article, the convergence of live streaming and e-commerce has become China’s favorite way to shop. For the uninitiated, live commerce is best described as the “infomercial reboot.”


You could see that both e-commerce and social apps have been playing with online selling with live streaming for a long time.

Taobao Live, the dominant live commerce platform in China reported that its gross merchandise volume has grown by 150% per year over the past three years. 

In the following slide, you could see social app spending based on the industry.


Categories that work better are clothing, cosmetics, and food. But as you could see, it works pretty well in all the industry.

According to Kleiner Perkins’ Internet trends report, “live broadcasts have actually become the number one source of revenue per hour in China, ahead of mobile games, television, radio, videos, and music.”

Chinese revenue

Despite the boom in China, livestream commerce is still in its infancy in Europe and North America. Amazon launched its livestreaming shopping platform, Amazon Live, last year and Facebook and Instagram are reportedly piloting their own versions of the service as well.

Which could be the success factors?

Based on the Chinese experience, to let the Livestream commerce gain traction, there seem to be two success factors that all retailers need to nail: Entertainment, and influencers.

Chinese consumers find live streaming shopping experience more social and interactive, and market growth reflects their engagement. 

Recent research from IMD business school on Chinese e-commerce trends describes how cleverly using digital tools and services to make online shopping fun and exciting has helped to fuel China’s booming e-commerce sector.

As Connie ended her twitter thread: “Fun fact, usage of Taobao Live (livestreaming commerce from Alibaba) peaks around 10PM. This is how you know it’s entertainment!“.

On the other hand, influencers, known as key opinion leaders (KOLs) drive live commerce in China. KOLs broadcast live on streaming platforms to showcase products, try them on, and describe them to the viewer. An influencer that inspires trust is a key factor. Trust is a time-tested sales competency.

Our own experience: The Virtual Shopper

Live streaming selling is not exclusive to the Chinese market. There are also many players that are working this concept of live streaming sales, not in a social app solution, but more related to assisted selling or conversational sales solutions.

We also did our own approach at MediaMarkt in 2015. We called it Virtual Shopper. The idea behind this cool naming was to have store sales employees attending website contacts, live streaming the products, helping the customers to checkout, and closing the sales with them.

The idea was really cool. Virtual shoppers were dressed with special polo shirts, and Google glasses (yes!) to live stream the products. And the procedure was quite easy, there was a click-to-call button on the website, where we asked for the phone number and a call was triggered to one of the Virtual Shoppers, or the customer could schedule the call.

Maybe you are interested in the figures that I am not going to share. It was a proof of concept only focused in one store. As usually happen with many pilot projects, we found many troubles, lots of learnings, but we didn’t evolve it. When there was a proposal to grow, due to strategy changes and new prioritizations, we had to discontinue the project.

Maybe we did it too early. It was between 2015 and 2017, even before Taobao Live. There isn’t yet any pure player doing it as we did in Europe. If you’re willing to know which technology we used, we partnered with Whisbi, and I would recommend them again.


Lockdown increased sales up to Black Friday numbers, up to 500% of our online sales. But in general, pure player e-commerce revenue growth increased between 40% and 80% in Europe (according to COVID-19 Commerce Insight tracker), and online orders were up 80% in North America since January.

Who knows how useful a solution like this would have been during the lockdown. Imagine what would have happened if our customers would have had the opportunity to buy socializing with their friends and family.

Returning to the first statement from Connie about who would be next Amazon competitor, it seems that China is walking a different path, probably evolving in an immoderate way, changing the status quo much faster than in Europe or North America.

Current Amazon competitors seem to be the Shopping Apps, but having a new player like Facebook we should expect it to evolve into a social experience in a close future. I am totally engaged with the idea of having a social and live streaming commerce.

What are your thoughts about Connie’s statement? Do you also think social apps will beat shopping apps? Do you think live streaming will succeed as happened in China? Did you ever try live streaming commerce?

I hope you liked it. If so, please share it! Do not hesitate to share your thoughts, doubts, and comments. And, if you want to stay up to date, don’t miss my free newsletter.

As always, thanks for reading.

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