Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, if you wanted real-time advice on how to style a trendy Rebecca Minkoff sweater with an equally fashionable handbag, your best bet was to head to a retailer, such as Nordstrom or Bloomingdale's, and track down a clerk. Post-Covid, Rebecca, the founder of the eponymous brand, will show you herself, right from her closet.

Minkoff is one of many retailers leaning into an e-commerce trend that the pandemic has helped accelerate: livestream shopping. Think of it as like a QVC broadcast where brands and influencers pitch products but specifically for social media and e-commerce platforms where you can instantly click through to make a purchase. 

In China, livestream shopping is already a massive business, estimated at $63 billion. Thanks to Covid lockdowns, the trend is finally taking off in the U.S. Retailers now have a plethora of platforms to try. Google, YouTube, Amazon, Instagram, and Facebook have all launched live shopping offerings. Meanwhile, venture capital-backed startups NTWRK, Popshop Live, ShopShops, Moda Operandi, and others cater to more niche audiences. Some of these platforms are invite-only; others are open to any company that wants to start broadcasting.     

The payoff of making a live, direct pitch to potential customers is real: Minkoff says that generally every live video the brand produces, whether it's on Amazon or Instagram, generates a 20 percent lift in traffic to its website. Lillebaby, a Golden, Colorado-based maker of baby carriers, has been using Amazon Live since the e-commerce giant rolled out a beta test with select retailers in 2018. On Amazon Prime Day, October 13, the brand says it saw an average video click-through rate of 20 percent, with 9 percent of those viewers making a purchase. 

To find out what it takes to succeed on livestream shopping platforms, Inc. spoke with both the entrepreneurs using them and the ones who created them. 

1. Figure out what your audience finds compelling. 

"We're in the business of entertainmentizing retail," says Aaron Levant, CEO of Los Angeles-based NTWRK, a live shopping platform launched in 2018 that focuses specifically on curated product drops. NTWRK, whose audience is about 75 percent male, saw its revenue double between March and April. The platform features only products that can't be found elsewhere, so retailers benefit from exclusivity and scarcity as part of the sales pitch.

The most successful product drops on his platform are the ones that have a great story, Levant says.

"Does it matter? Is anyone going to give a sh*t? Does it evoke an audible reaction?" he says. He recommends that brands experiment with, say, showing the process of how a product is made or even pulling back the curtain on your own struggle as an entrepreneur. 

Minkoff says her customers want something much more practical: "Our girl wants to know the good, the bad, the ugly about the bag," she says. "She wants the goods and wants to know where to buy them and at what price."

Lillebaby does a mix of content, from baby-carrier fit checks and product Q&A sessions to livestreams featuring "parent influencers" talking about their own lives and how they use the products, says Maggie Katreva, head of social media. And the brand was surprised to learn that videos featuring dads perform the best in terms of viewership, conversion, traffic, and revenue. 

2. Don't be afraid to make the sales pitch.

Layla Amjadi, product lead for Instagram Shopping, says one mistake she's seen companies make is failing to actually pitch the audience on buying the product.

"If you're shy about selling a product, it's awkward, and it feels ickier," she says. "When you do talk about commerce, don't be afraid of it. This format invites you to have that conversation."  

3. Prep your team to handle the Q&A.

When Lillebaby started livestreaming, the person in front of the camera was the only one communicating with the audience and answering live questions. Soon, however, between 500 and 700 questions--many of them extremely specific--were coming in over the course of a broadcast. The brand now has three people from customer service helping with the Q&A moderation, says Katreva. They prep beforehand by getting insight from brand ambassadors on the kinds of questions that might pop up.  

4. Work out the kinks as you go. 

Live broadcasting comes with its own unique challenges, some of which you'll discover only once you start. But here are a few important ones. A 40- to 60-minute livestream requires a lot of stamina, so whoever is on camera, whether it's you the founder or an influencer, needs to be able to bring the energy the whole time. 

And clothing companies, think ahead about how you're going to model various outfits. "Some girls are fine stripping down on camera, but I'm totally guilty of going offscreen for several minutes," Minkoff says. "The next time I do a live, I'll sell the clothes off a rack."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Aaron Levant's role at NTWRK. He is CEO.

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