19th August 2022

POV: Live Shopping Trials Scaling Down


Social commerce and in particular, live shopping, is hugely successful in China and parts of South-East Asia. On Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) live shopping generates big dollars for the app and creators. However, other social platforms trying to reap the same rewards in the US and Europe have found live shopping isn’t performing as well as expected, and Meta has now announced it will shut down its live shopping feature on Facebook on 1st October.

Details and Implications

Amazon, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook have all been trialling live shopping, which initially came out of China, and brings together entertainment and shopping using popular influencers. A host, usually an influencer or celebrity, promotes and demonstrates a product through live video and interacts with the audience in real-time to chat and answer questions. There are features that allow users to click on product links while watching the live broadcast and purchase items, usually all within the app.

But the success that live shopping has seen in China and South-East Asia has not been emulated in the West so far. Consumers want short-form bite-size content within their social feeds. Live shopping is not that, and longer form live video and the ‘shopitainment’ trend is not translating in the US and European markets.

TikTok started testing live shopping in the UK late last year, but those live streams didn’t draw the big audiences or sales it had hoped. The company is now reportedly scaling back plans to roll out its live shopping in other parts of Europe and the US and instead has put more focus on several other countries in South-East Asia where the concept is more mature.

Now Meta has announced it is shuttering live shopping on its Facebook platform from October to focus on short-form video. But live shopping will remain active and in development on Instagram, so Meta is not abandoning it completely.

Part of the slow uptake of these services in Western markets could be due to cultural differences and the development of social commerce in different regions. Live shopping is in an experimental development phase in the UK, Europe and the US, whereas in mobile-first countries that largely skipped the desktop web, such as China and in South-East Asia, the behaviour is more advanced and embedded in culture and where there is the highest percentage of online shoppers who buy via mobile. These are also highly influenced KOL (Key Opinion Leader) markets. Consumers trust their favourite KOL/Influencer when they’re recommending a product.

Other reasons could be due to less infrastructure and the relative complexity and costs for merchants to hold live streams in studios and pay for influencers and crew in different parts of the world. The economics simply aren’t quite right at the present moment. Also in the West, in many cases the user experience may not be completely seamless due to limited checkout solutions in the ecosystem. Whereas in mature markets like China, for example, the platforms are supported by a sophisticated live ecommerce infrastructure and ecosystem with features for a more seamless experience to drive stickiness and time spent on the platform. Additionally, there is a raft of dedicated studios and production companies, even talent agencies and academies for livestream presenters. 


Live social shopping has been part of a race for frictionless commerce on social platforms. All major players want to provide a seamless shopping experience for their users, keeping both them and their transactions inside the ecosystem, which of course means the platform also earns a cut of the sales.

It has been a rocky start for some platforms live commerce experiments in the US and Europe, but the size of the industry shows there is potentially huge rewards for getting it right and all will continue their experiments until eventually one pays off.

Further Reading:

TechCrunch | Social Media Today | FT

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