Livestream shopping is a $66 billion business in China, but only a $1 billion business in the U.S.
That’s likely to change soon if Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, TikTok, and many other massive platforms have their way. Tech giants are investing huge sums in building live-streaming shopping in the web.
Will it work?
In this episode of TechFirst with John Koetsier, I chat with Elma Beganovich, 50% of the iconic influencer duo Amra & Elma. Former lawyers and economists, now entrepreneurs, they started their own influencer marketing agency and have over two million followers.
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A major focus now: livestream shopping.
We chat about why it’s happening. Who does it. Why people shop via livestream. Where it’s likely to go. And … which tech giants are likely to win.
Check out the story at Forbes, or keep scrolling for the interview, the podcast, and the full transcript …
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Transcript: livestream shopping and the tech giants, with Elma Beganovich
(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
John Koetsier: Livestream shopping is a $66 billion business in China. It’s only about a billion dollars in the U.S., but Amazon is jumping in, Facebook is diving in, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter are all making moves, and yes, even Home Shopping Network is moving to livestream influencers and get shopping going via this new channel.
But, the question is, will it work in the West?
Today, we’re chatting with Elma Beganovich. She and her sister Amra are influencers with over 2 million followers. Elma was a lawyer. Amra was an economist. I guess they decided they wanted to have more fun and they started their own influencer marketing agency, Amra & Elma. Welcome!
Elma Beganovich: Thank you so much for having me.
John Koetsier: Hey, it is a real pleasure having you. Let’s start right at the beginning … why is livestream shopping becoming a thing?
Elma Beganovich: Yeah, so livestream shopping seems to be the natural progression of things. So, when Amra and I started this was late 2012, so before Facebook Pages even existed and — if you can believe a world without Facebook Pages but [laughter] it was there.
So essentially, obviously, all of our — the products that we use, the social media products started evolving, obviously, since 2004, 2012 and onwards. So as the new features keep getting added, for example, Facebook’s latest Reels and really pushed towards Reels and even social commerce, it seems to be the natural progression of things, you know, about live commerce. And we’ve had the history in this country from QVC of it being very successful. And now looking at China, of course, it seems like the next natural step.
John Koetsier: Who wants to livestream shop? Who wants to shop while they’re watching somebody livestream? What’s the target here?
Elma Beganovich: Yeah. So the target, you know, it varies.
You have your sort of target from your millennial moms, so they’re the sort of the younger savvy shoppers who are digitally obsessed. They’re not certainly listening to radio ads or looking at paper ads. They’ve also sort of deemed QVC for old ladies, if you will, right. So that’s not, that’s something their mothers or their grandmothers do. So, they’re looking for the latest, right? So, what’s available, what’s cool, what are of course the pricing points, right? They want a best deal.
So, there’s that target demographic.
There’s also a surprising, like the males, so young dads, right? So your sort of Home Depot, Target, they’re also looking, and Amazon Live has become very handy for that. So it’s mostly skewed towards the women, but there are, again, like the male definitely demographic is there.
But they would generally be your Millennials and Gen Z as well. They are also online savvy shoppers so they’re always looking for a deal.
John Koetsier: Wow, we could see the reinvention of Tim “The Tool Guy” from like a decade and a half ago or something like that [laughter] a livestream shopping dude.
Elma Beganovich: [Laughing] Yes, exactly, right?
John Koetsier: Maybe I’m kind of antiquated here … when I need something, I search for it.
How does livestream commerce work? I mean, is it something that you wanted in the past and you’re kind of looking for? Is it something that you just see somebody that you’re following sell and you think, oh, that’s cool! What’s the kind of mindset here?
Elma Beganovich: Mindset, so that’s a great question.
So it’s basically, you know, social media has become sort of like your entertainment hub, right? So people who are bored, they’re filling in time, taking a break between their job where now like everyone’s sort of this like stay-at-home economy at home. And they could be just, you know, after-work hours as well, bored.
But essentially when they’re, you know, where they’re flipping, whether it’s standing in a grocery line, right, the food store, through their phone and scrolling down the Instagram feed, or again, like whether they’re at home bored, or at work taking a break, this sort of becomes habitual, right? You check out influencers and influencers that you follow for things that you care about.
So whether there would be things relating to home improvement or whether there’d be things relating to home decor, or fashion and beauty, whatever your niche is, you follow those influencers.
So then all of a sudden, you see in your feed if someone’s promoting something. So they could be saying like, ‘Come to my Amazon channel,’ right, ‘so check me out there.’ And now YouTube has just launched also live commerce.
So they obviously engaged creators to advertise.
So it’s sort of, yeah, it’s, you know, you’re online browsing and yeah, you’re looking at new things and you’re looking at influencers and they’re sort of guiding you where to go and what to look at. So you say sure, if you’re looking for a holiday party, you know, what to wear ideas, and your favorite fashion influencers sort of like steers you, ‘Hey, like check out the deals on Amazon Live,’ of course you’re going to take a look. So that sort of is like becoming integrated into our daily lives.
John Koetsier: Interesting. It’s basically kind of the retail therapy for the mobile obsessed … mom, dad, anybody, right? Teen, perhaps, as well. I guess if you’re on your phone you’re seeing the world through your phone anyways, you happen to see that and you see something you like, there you go.
What products or verticals make sense here? You talked about millennial moms and so there’s some products that suggest themselves there — perhaps beauty, perhaps childcare, perhaps home, you know, you mentioned men as well, so perhaps tools or other things, sports equipment — what verticals are you seeing, what products are you seeing make the most sense?
Elma Beganovich: So the most sense, you know, there’s verticals in the product, in terms of the verticals is exactly as you said. So there’s the fashion vertical, right? There’s the beauty vertical. There’s the home decor, so sort of your home vertical and then there’s also your home-improvement vertical. So these are some of the — and then oh, I should very much mention that your fitness vertical, right …
John Koetsier: Mmm, yes.
Elma Beganovich: … sort of refers to old days of QVC, which now you can kind of find these relics on the internet, like these Jane Fonda workout videos, but, sort of that kind of setting, so they talk you through different equipment.
Also food verticals, it’s interesting for recipes and it can be also interesting for devices, you know, whether blenders or something else that would be very nicely demonstrated through a video. So yeah, it’s devices, I would say, on the product side that it’s a very good — it could be camera equipment as well for men, for example, or even for women, now everyone’s become a photographer with mobile phones and you know what to do, but it could be that, or your aspiring influencers to your, as we talked about, so your fashion, home decor, home improvement and fitness.
John Koetsier: You know what’s funny, you kind of connected dots in my head, because I’ve kind of looked at home shopping and I’ve thought — sorry, not home shopping, live-streaming shopping, and I thought that is the dumbest thing in the history of [laughing] whatever, technology, right? ‘Cause like, I want something, I’m going to go search for it maybe on Google, maybe Amazon, maybe somewhere else … I’ll find it, I’ll buy it, there I go.
But I remember sometimes, back in the dim mists of time when we had like 30 channels or something like that — you know, it was probably before you were born, I’m not sure — but you’d be flipping through late at night and there’s nothing to watch, you’re going click, click, click, click, and there’s the home shopping channel or whatever it was called, and you’re like, huh, interesting. I never bought anything off of it, but sometimes you would just stare at, you were transf— they were great at creating an atmosphere that was interesting and alive, and so maybe I’m kind of getting a little bit of the appeal there.
Just, hey, it’s entertainment … you’re watching it, you’re enjoying it, you’re having some fun. And maybe, just maybe, there’s something that you need and you’ll pick it up.
Talk about the kind of relationship that if you’re a brand and you’re working with influencers, or if you’re an influencer and you’re trying to monetize your audience, your reach … what kind of relationship do you need between the influencer and the product that they’re pitching?
Elma Beganovich: I think I’ll talk about the relationship and the product. What I think is very interesting to your point, and this kind of, I guess, like seeps in, but it’s that it’s basically the excitement you can create through videos, right? That’s very appealing about live commerce.
So it’s this excitement and also longevity, right? So it’s different, you know, if you’re scrolling through Instagram, you sort of could have like these reels, like maybe they’re not that long where, you know, 10, 15 second clips, right? And then you just kind of like, that format is not that … you know, yeah, I like our phones the way that they’re set up versus sort of this video format. And you could be on your computer, on your desktop, or even mobile if you’re going to do the flipping, but let’s say on desktop, it’s entertaining, right? So you’re actually going to spend on there longer while someone’s talking you through a different set of products and you’re just sort of glued and watching that.
And then below it makes it very convenient, for example, on Amazon Live, you can just click and start buying things. So that is very appealing for brands, versus on your, let’s say on Instagram, they cut you off after like five second look on a photo or maybe 10, 15 seconds look on a clip, right?
So this obviously becomes engaging and immersive, and then you’re also able to comment, right, you can engage. So, it’s just like an entire kind of, I think it, where it will lead essentially become an ecosystem and so much better than QVC because it’s interactive, right?
So, and then obviously, like as influencers, you specialize in content creation, it’s authentic looking so they can talk to you through, for example, what sort of materials is this dress? Like how does it feel on, you know, versus a photograph can’t really say that, or 10 to 15 second clip they don’t really have the attention. But sort of the type of customers or the type of users that are driven to these livestream, you know, commerce, it’s a different, they’re ready to kind of give you a chunk of their time, right?
John Koetsier: Mm-hmm.
Elma Beganovich: Rather than a second or two. So I think it’s very lucrative for brands and maybe something that you didn’t think to buy, you’re like, wow, I never thought about it; that material, she said it feels so soft, or the makeup feels so good on the face; or even the product, it’s really great, like you can use it in this way, it’s easy to use, it’s quick.
And so you’ve now basically opened yourself up to a whole lot of consumers that otherwise wouldn’t have considered you or given you more than two seconds of their time.
John Koetsier: [Laughing] Yes. You almost started a livestream shopping experience right there. I mean, like, I would totally suck at this, right … I have a shirt on. It’s gray. It’s a shirt [laughing]. You wear it when you want to wear a shirt. I mean, I would not be good at this.
Talk to me about the platforms that are coming up. You’ve mentioned a bunch of them. I’ve mentioned a bunch off the top. What platforms are engaging in live stream commerce in the West — let’s say, U.S., maybe even Europe, that sort of thing — that you think are interesting and going to be successful?
Elma Beganovich: I think, Amazon Live has, you know, Amazon has invested already a lot more than anyone else. So I think, you know, with a different — they’ve gone out, hired influencers, so you can usually find something live already going there and in different categories and in terms of variety of content, because you need variety, right?
So one thing is when someone lands on the platform, but are you capturing what they’re looking for? So in terms of the variety, they’re definitely ahead of everyone else.
I think TikTok will be an interesting one to watch because of their link to China and they understand how powerful livestream shopping is and what it can do.
And so if you sort of engage your right ingredients, which in this case are content creators, you can really — and they already do this anyway, right? So now brands that are paying them to sell certain things live and, again, it’s that experience, right? So you sort of become glued and like mesmerized, you know, and if the influencer’s great [laughter], which a lot of them comment on the content, so you’re watching this, and again, they probably will get customers that they never thought they would get to.
But again, it’s so much more powerful when someone’s talking at you as we’ve seen with QVC. So, yeah, it’s just, I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity there and definitely the tech companies are investing and are going to continue to invest in this space. And as I mentioned, YouTube just did it, you know, for the first time. And they got a group of creators together. So it’s just, it’s an ongoing space, expanding space.
John Koetsier: Super interesting, and we know that Facebook is investing there as well. And one of their goals for the coming year and years is to make more commerce happen on platform, so that you don’t click on a link on Facebook, go to a different website, buy something, then possibly come back; but they want to do it more on platform because they capture all the data.
So I could see that being a big deal for them as well. I want to ask you a personal question as we come to kind of a close on this session here. You are a lawyer. Your sister was an economist. You decided to stop doing that, become entrepreneurs, start your own agency. What led to that decision?
Elma Beganovich: Yeah. So that’s really interesting. So it basically was an accident, sort of right place at the right time.
So when we started, as I mentioned, it was late 2012 and my sister was sort of — I have to credit her as the visionary here — she basically had a conversation with her friends, again, this was in the very early days of Instagram, basically, there were no influencers — five influencers, I think at that point [laughter] sort of when she started [inaudible]. So any, like blue ocean completely, and she sat up one night and she said, ‘I’m going to create basically a blog.’
And her idea for the blog was because it was at the request of a lot of her friends. They thought she had very useful tips from traveling to fashion to beauty, so they said — to interior design — ‘Why don’t you put this advice out there?’ And it was a lot more relatable to everyday people than what at this point Vogue, or Harper’s Bazaar, or InStyle had been putting out, right? Like normal people couldn’t, you know, everyday people can’t spend tens of thousand dollars on skincare. So it was just not reachable.
So, yeah, my sister sat down and she, you know, that’s a great thing about the internet, you use the tools — at the time Blogger was popular and she learned HTML and CSS and put our first blog up.
And then, kind of short, like three months into, we got over a hundred thousand views and brands started contacting us and this is, like she knew, she’s an economist by background, as you mentioned, she’s like, this has to be a business because they wouldn’t be spending their resources — so from their labor to shipping costs — if they didn’t see value in this. So there has to be value in this, basically, audience.
So that’s how we started, and then essentially just sort of morphed, one thing led to another and brands kept asking us for more services. So we kept adding on, expanding our services. So now from, you know, ranking brands number one on Google, through organic, through paid, to influencer marketing, as you mentioned, to social media growth — yeah, it was basically, can you replicate your own model when you’re done, for us. And that’s how it, yeah, basically it was like a snowball effect, and yeah, here we are today.
John Koetsier: I think many, many entrepreneurs can resonate with that because they fall into whatever company or niche they actually end up being successful in … kind of accidentally, kind of something they’re interested in, they try something, something happens, some happy accident of the internet occurs, something clicks, and boom, magic happens. Elma, thank you so much for taking this time.
Elma Beganovich: Thank you so much for having me.
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