Facebook is trying to emulate China’s e-commerce model

Facebook is pushing livestream shopping.
Facebook is pushing livestream shopping.
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic
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Facebook is trying to hook users on livestream shopping.

The social-media platform today announced the launch of Live Shopping Fridays, where on each Friday for three months well-known companies in beauty and fashion will host live shopping events. On their Facebook brand pages or in the Shop tab on Facebook’s app, companies including Sephora, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bobbi Brown, and Clinique will stream live to viewers, entertaining them, talking trends, and demonstrating products. Interested shoppers will be able to comment and ask questions in real time, as well as make purchases by tapping on the products and checking out without having to leave Facebook.

It’s an idea similar to television home-shopping channels, but much more interactive. The program starts May 21.

Facebook has been rolling out shopping features since last year when it launched Facebook Shops, which lets businesses set up an online store on Facebook and Instagram. Live shopping is one of the capabilities it has built out, but Live Shopping Fridays marks a notable push to get well-known brands to use it, and one need only look to China to understand why.

Image: Facebook

Live commerce is huge in China, but not yet in the US

Livestream e-commerce, or live commerce, has become a hugely popular in China. By December, the number of livestream shoppers in the country had reached an estimated 617 million. Taobao, Alibaba’s giant consumer-to-consumer marketplace, says the value of merchandise sold through livestream on the platform grew more than 150% each year between 2017 and 2019 and reached more than $61 billion in 2020. Platforms such as Pinduo, Kuaishou, and Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, have become major live commerce destinations.

Key opinion leaders, or KOLs—China’s version of influencers—drive much of the sales. They can have followings in the millions and have long explored different ways of letting their fans buy the products they’re talking about. Livestreaming emerged as a way to do it while letting fans engage with them directly. International companies have recognized the potential and sought partnerships with livestreamers, as Louis Vuitton did (paywall) last year with Austin Li, a beauty influencer and Chinese social media’s “Lipstick King.”

The question for Facebook is whether its users will respond as eagerly. Live commerce has yet to catch on (paywall) in the US and Europe. The retail environment is much different than in China, where e-commerce is more advanced and consumers are accustomed to doing just about everything through their phones. In the US, shoppers have also proved reluctant to buy through social-media platforms.

But US companies are making more efforts to appeal to young US shoppers with livestreams. Walmart, for instance, recently announced its second livestream event on TikTok, saying it netted seven times more views than anticipated and grew its followers by 25%. The next three months may show whether fashion and beauty companies can find the same success on Facebook.