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Why Live Shopping Platforms Are Betting on Beauty

TalkShopLive, Agora, Verishop and more believe beauty will be a huge category led by educational and entertaining storytelling.

The future of beauty shopping is live, live commerce platform founders say.

Faced with the threat of virus variants and fluctuating in-store mask mandates, beauty consumers have embraced online shopping during COVID-19. Now, many are adopting live commerce, too.

Live shopping has flourished over the past year-and-a-half, though like many other now-popular trends born from pandemic times, it had been simmering for a few years prior. Malls had fallen out of cultural relevance, and more often than not, companies had begun placing their bets on social media shopping and a direct-to-consumer business model that seemed to yield more and accurate data.

Buying digitally, however, is not always all it is cracked up to be. As Bryan Moore, chief executive officer and cofounder of social shopping network TalkShopLive, put it, “Buying is a transaction, but shopping is an experience.”

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“It’s not just about buying the product,” Moore told Beauty Inc. “[Live commerce] brings us back to the experience of shopping.”

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TalkShopLive developed an embeddable player that allows viewers to purchase without leaving the livestream. Additionally, brands and publications can embed the player on their web sites. TalkShopLive has grown more than four times since 2020, with beauty and food leading the most growth, according to Moore. In August, it will launch a Beauty Edit channel featuring weekly segments with brand founders and influencers such as makeup artist Jamie Greenberg, skin care entrepreneur Alicia Yoon, hair stylist Nunzio Saviano and designer Leah McSweeney.

“Brands are driving [live shopping’s] growth through their need of the tech and owning and growing their engaged customer base,” Moore said.

Books and music are TalkShopLive’s largest categories — “gateway categories,” as Moore called them. Beauty accounts for more than 10 percent of sales, and Moore predicts the category will be “one of the biggest verticals in live commerce” overall.

“It is so demonstrable,” he said. “Beauty allows sellers and shoppers to connect in a more personal way. Shopping for lipstick may seem basic for a customer, but it says so much about who he or she is and who they want to be. By having live commerce attached to beauty, it not only allows people to aspire to be part of a lifestyle, but to align themselves with it completely and actually participate in the conversation of it.”

Engagement is integral to the success of live commerce, and tasked with driving engagement is the host. Each platform has its own name for live shopping hosts, but the job description for an effective one is standard: “accessible, knowledgeable and entertaining,” said Lizzie Craft Townsend-Rose, cofounder of social commerce app Agora.

“People are trying to understand products, especially the younger consumer,” Townsend-Rose said. “A simple piece of flatlay beautiful content with a tag posted by an influencer is not going to provide that.”

Gen Z and young Millennials are accustomed to watching entertaining video or moving-image content thanks to social media apps such as TikTok, Instagram and Twitch. Beauty consumers are particularly keen to learn as much about a company and its products as possible prior to purchasing.

“Livestreaming enables people to discover new, exciting products, because there is no lack of assortment in the market, but in a way that can be authentic and transparent,” Townsend-Rose said. “If you don’t know anything about the product and are just tagging, no one’s going to engage, no one’s going to buy. Livestreaming offers that knowledge, storytelling, honesty that you don’t get in the old world of influencer marketing. It’s bringing realness back to the influencer industry, although I would not call a livestreamer an influencer.”

Live shopping, too, brings “major transparency” to the creator economy, Moore of TalkShopLive said.

“It’s no longer a question of which influencers are actually moving products and driving audience attention. You can see it in real time,” he said. “It allows the brands to have a strong purview into the influencers they’re utilizing.”

JD Loveless Verishop
On Verishop, content creator JD Loveless hosts 30-minute segments featuring three to six products available to purchase at discount. Courtesy of Nani Welch Keliʻihoʻomalu

JD Loveless, a beauty and fashion content creator, regularly hosts livestreams on social shopping platform Verishop, which launched live shopping capabilities in July. Loveless curates three to six items that fall within a theme of his choosing prior to going live on the app for 30 minutes, during which he fields questions from viewers about topics such as product ingredients and usage.

“People can engage with my live by chatting with me, and I can speak to them directly,” Loveless said. “They also have reached out after the live to continue the conversation. I love the community building. It does feel like I’m talking about how these products have helped me as someone that has sensitive skin or is a person of color trying to support brands that are POC-, LGBTQ-plus-owned.”

Loveless has free rein to talk about the brands and products he prefers most from Verishop’s assortment, which includes more than 1,000 clean beauty brands. He is also encouraged to promote the 15 percent discount that is applicable solely for the duration of the livestream, as he will make a percentage of revenue.

“Anything that gets sold, [the creator] makes 10 percent of the revenue,” said Imran Khan, Verishop’s cofounder and CEO.

Since launching live shopping, Verishop has held more than 1,000 livestreaming shows amounting to more than 500 hours of video content.

“It’s early, but we’ve seen five [times] higher conversion than mobile web,” Khan said. He attributes the early success to an understanding of what he referred to as the “passion economy.”

“TikTok is a platform for people who are passionate about creating shortform videos. Spotify is a platform for people who are passionate about creating audio,” Khan said. “There is no platform for people who are passionate about building brands and telling stories about the brand. E-commerce is built as a search engine platform. There is no better form of storytelling than video.”

Verishop’s beauty category accounted for 25 percent of its gross merchandise value in 2020. That percentage point has decreased a bit this year, as “people are now buying clothes” and less beauty, Khan said, though beauty is “still a double-digit-percentage” of Verishop’s overall GMV.

“Beauty is under-penetrated in terms of e-commerce,” Khan said. “One of the reasons is people want to experience beauty. … E-commerce right now is 15 percent of the market. It will become 50 percent of the market over the next, I think, 10 to 15 years.”

In years past, malls and department stores were the go-to for in-person, social shopping environments in which consumers could choose from a curated selection of products with the help of sales associates. The emergence of online shopping, paired with a proliferation of product, paved a path for influencers to become digital retailers in their own right, an evolution that COVID-19 seemed to cement.

There remains, however, a tendency for online to feel “sterile,” and consumers have “lost that serendipity of walking into a store and discovering something,” said Abigail Holtz, cofounder and CEO of The Lobby.

Holtz, a Google alumna with a background in fashion tech, launched The Lobby, a shopping platform led by influencer content, in September 2020. The Lobby invites influencers to join its platform, granting them access to products gifted by its brand partners. Influencers make video content featuring products of their choosing, and they are paid a commission on sales.

The Lobby does not yet offer live shopping, though Holtz alluded to adding that capability down the line. She is carefully considering the function of live commerce in the meantime.

“Live is not going to help you necessarily sell more of something if you don’t have a great product and someone who’s able to create great content around that product,” Holtz said. “When we do launch live, it [will be] a whole format and talent in itself…. The value that live adds is if you have questions, you have the opportunity to ask in real time. The other case where live does shine is when there’s limited stock, a limited-time offer, something that won’t be there after the live show is gone.”

For Enid Hwang, head of community and marketing at Supergreat, a three-year-old beauty commerce app, live shopping is a much-welcomed counter to the polished aesthetic platforms such as Instagram helped popularize, which has fallen out of popularity during the pandemic.

“Building rapport, relationships and an audience by sharing a much more unedited version of yourself is fundamentally different and often, more engaging and more persuasive when it comes to shopping,” Hwang said.

Supergreat offers both shortform, user-generated video content and live shopping, which it launched last year. It has amassed a community of more than 200,000 content creators who share an average of 4,000 new product reviews weekly. Every day, it curates live programming, working with about 25 hosts.

“Every week, we’re hitting new highs in the amount of livestream minutes on the app,” Hwang said. “Any live, we’re activating four to eight brands who do a mix of live shows, live sales and other engagements.”

On social media, the ability of an influencer to sell product is thought to be directly related to follower size and engagement. But in live shopping, Hwang said, success is dependent on personality and knowledge.

“Several of our most successful live shopping events didn’t involve a big name or influencers with gigantic followings,” she said. “It was, in one case, phenomenally engaging, vivacious, forward-facing founders. The success of a live shopping event isn’t tied necessarily to a follower-ship. It’s about somebody’s charisma and ability to demonstrate the efficacy, the fun, inspiring side of products live on camera. That’s fundamentally a different skill set.”

There is a feeling of ambivalence from beauty brands, whose products are of a higher price point, toward live shopping, which Holtz of The Lobby expressed.

“For beauty, [we don’t] necessarily see a lot of the higher-end brands wanting to jump onto limited-time deals and offers,” she said.

Still, platform founders such as Townsend-Rose of Agora maintain there is value in luxury brands adopting the feature, as “livestreaming can function as brand awareness,” she said.

“Yes, it can drive sell-through, but it’s all about driving awareness for a brand, and in a way, advocacy for a product through a livestreamer who is hopefully someone you identify with,” Townsend-Rose said. “I do think you can sell a lot, but you need to think about it differently: ‘I need to educate the consumer about why they should spend 500 pounds on a skin cream.’ You might not get a million sales overnight, but in terms of building that story and getting people to buy into it, 100 percent.

“In fact, I don’t know how you would get someone to buy 500-pound skin cream nowadays if it wasn’t for livestreaming because I can tell you, a beautiful image of the packaging isn’t gonna work anymore,” she continued. “You probably need a dermatologist on there talking about why this product is different and why you need it.”