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Shoptalk Takeaway: Live commerce is the new imperative no brand can afford to ignore

Last month, almost exactly two years after the beginning of the first global lockdown in response to COVID-19, I and several other Astound leaders attended Shoptalk, the retail industry conference that typically draws the biggest names in digital commerce. It was a coming together to talk business at a time when we at Astound are also highly focused on the personal—our personal concern, that is, for the well-being of our Ukrainian teammates in the face of Russia’s brutal invasion of their nation. I and my colleagues in each of the 25 other countries in which we operate are working daily to ensure the safety and well-being of our people there. At the same time, we’re working hard on behalf of all our clients and client projects with the same unwavering dedication we’ve always shown.

Michael Kahn (MK)
Global CEO at Astound Commerce

Against this backdrop, one might think the Shoptalk scene in Las Vegas was a jarring disconnect. In reality, it provided an invaluable opportunity to meet with some of our clients in person and talk about these dualities and the very powerful need we’re all feeling right now for a shared human experience. And when you’re having that conversation with the top brands in the business, one topic comes up time and again: live commerce. 

Live commerce, or active interaction with your customers via live video, encompasses live feeds on platforms like Facebook Live and Instagram Live, and it can consist of a one-to-many interaction with an unlimited audience size or a one-to-one concierge-style session with an individual customer. Livestreamed customer service also falls in this category, and all aspects of live commerce—customer service included—dovetail nicely with the growing force of the metaverse, which brings with it an unprecedented opportunity to give consumers a true in-store experience from a distance. The live commerce experience is equally suited to all levels of retail, from warehouse stores to luxury brands alike. 

The clients we talked to at Shoptalk were emphatic about the importance of this trend, and recent data supports them. IDC’s 2022 retail predictions report holds that by 2023, 40 percent of retailers will be engaged in livestreaming as a sales tool, and those brands can expect to see a 10 percent increase in conversion rates. eMarketer predicts that the live commerce segment of retail will have a value of US$25 billion by 2023 (more than doubling this year’s figure). From influencers to store employees, brands need human beings who can talk to their customers directly, in real time, and guide their experience. 

The metaverse in particular is a veritable playground for this, and if you’re a retailer, it behooves you to host the same kind of events and offer the same services in that space that you would in a physical store. Think virtual presale events, help desks, and of course the opportunity to walk the store, shop, and even try things on. 

These suggestions are a natural extension of a carefully crafted omnichannel strategy—which competitive brands should already have firmly in place and be executing on daily. In fact, in Astound’s own 2022 omnichannel report titled Online Meets In-Store: 7 Top Tips for Bridging the Gap Between Online and Offline Commerce, we report on how augmented reality, virtual reality, and 3-D visualization tools help bridge the online-offline gap through the creation of vibrant, almost tactile product analogues, allowing customer interaction to a deep and satisfying degree. In addition, by allowing customers to discover and test products in a virtual environment that is shockingly similar to physical reality, these tools can slash customer dissatisfaction and product returns, bolstering retailer revenues. 

Our report also notes that immersive digital solutions can replicate the social value of in-store shopping by enabling users to invite friends to shop and chat while browsing. All these digital options help break down the walls between online and offline, allowing customers to view shopping as a unified experience with multiple access points.

Of course there are still metaverse skeptics—“Utopia or Anti-Social Dystopia?” read one recent headline. But perhaps for those of us embracing duality these days, the answer to that headline is “Yes.” Duality is a fact of our current collective human experience. We are living with the reality of unbearable tragedy, and still we get up and get to work every day because that’s what gives us purpose and ultimately helps those around us. We come together even when it’s difficult, and even if it’s virtual, because human connection matters. Connecting with our clients matters. Connecting with your customers matters. The live experience matters.

The vast potential the metaverse holds for retail makes it clear that when it comes to live commerce, what’s important isn’t so much the where but rather the why and the how. Those are questions we at Astound are well-equipped to answer, so let’s talk. We’re ready to make a human connection. 

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