December 2, 2023

On a warm spring night in New York, dozens of people gathered on a rooftop in midtown Manhattan to chat over fruity cocktails. Shortly after happy hour started, a woman stepped out of the crowd to go to work.

Standing between a fake green backdrop and an iPhone on a ring light, she pretends to be an auctioneer, begging the audience to buy a used sweater.

“Guys, let’s make this $67,” Iva Lazovic said, smiling as she approached the camera. “This is so cute. It’s Lululemon. You’ll never get a lower price than this at the store. Let’s be real. Posh has steals and deals.”

Ms. Lazovic was one of several women at the event who jumped to their phones to sell on Posh Shows. .

Poshmark is one of many companies racing to break into the nascent live-streaming shopping market in the U.S., which is estimated to generate $32 billion in sales this year, according to retail consultancy Coresight Research. By contrast, China’s live-streaming shopping market is expected to bring in $647 billion this year, and for years U.S. companies have poured money into the medium, where people buy and sell products in real time via video. But U.S. consumers have yet to do in-person shopping in the same way.

In 2016, e-commerce giant Alibaba launched Taobao Live to popularize live shopping in China. The live-streaming landscape in the U.S. is more fragmented, but even as shoppers return to stores, retailers and big tech companies are betting consumers will continue to search and buy on their phones. For platforms, live shopping promises more engagement, with consumers sometimes spending hours watching hosts sell items. For retailers, it’s another channel to sell merchandise.

Along with Poshmark, QVC parent company Qurate recently launched Sune, a real-time shopping app aimed at Gen Z. In the last year, Walmart, YouTube and eBay have added or expanded their real-time shopping capabilities. On Prime Day, Amazon recruited celebrities like Kevin Hart to promote its Amazon Live platform. Shein was an early adopter when it launched Shein Live for US shoppers in 2016. Shein US President George Chiao said in a statement that what began with just a few hundred viewers per episode now averages “hundreds of thousands of viewers per episode.”

“What we’ve seen is just a wild excitement,” Poshmark CEO Manish Chandra said at the rooftop event. “In just a few months, they’ve demonstrated that The on-site shopping is effective,” he added, referring to Posh Shows sellers like Ms. Lazovic.

As big tech companies and major retailers struggle to gain a foothold in live shopping, startups like Whatnot and Ntwrk are touting their tight-knit customer communities as the blueprint for live shopping in the US. Investors poured more than $380 million into live-streaming e-commerce companies in the U.S. last year, up from $36 million in 2020, according to PitchBook data.

“We believe shopping is not just about transactions. It’s about experience,” said Wu Liya, CEO and founder of live-streaming shopping startup ShopShops. She added that live shopping can simulate an “online and offline shopping experience”.

Ms. Wu said that ShopShops in 2021 started to focus on American consumers rather than Chinese consumers because it saw more opportunities in the US retail market. She added that ShopShops and other newcomers can “build overall behavior” because big players have yet to define on-site shopping in the US.

For some viewers, live shopping has replaced malls and morning cable shows. AJ Johnson, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based lifestyle blogger, watches ShopShops live most of the week, but her favorite show is Wednesdays at 6 a.m.

The app is more than just a place to buy clothing and jewelry, she said. Ms Johnson, 36, found entertainment and community on ShopShops by talking to store owners and fellow shoppers about their lives.

“Some people play video games. I just watch live shopping,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s like running away.”

But live shopping faces stiff competition in the U.S., with linear TV, streaming channels and social media vying for consumers’ attention and money. Last year, 78% of U.S. adults said they had never shopped in person. poll Provided by Morning Consult.

Some U.S. companies have pulled out of live shopping. Meta made a big push into e-commerce early in the pandemic, but shut down Instagram’s live shopping feature in March and Facebook’s live shopping feature in October.

Other companies have been much slower to get into live shopping. TikTok has been testing its live shopping tool, TikTok Shop, in the United States since November. It’s betting that users will stay on TikTok to watch merchants — including big names like Beauty Wizard and California clothing company PacSun, as well as small business owners — share their products and then buy through the app.

But the launch of TikTok Shop has been dragged down in the US. The feature has been available in parts of Southeast Asia for more than a year, and TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin has offered live shopping since 2018.

In the United States, TikTok is facing strong criticism from lawmakers and regulators. More than two states have banned the app on government devices. In April, Montana lawmakers approved a bill to block TikTok in the state, the first ban of its kind.

TikTok declined to say when TikTok Shop would become widely available in the United States.

Companies have taken a different approach to working with landlords. On Poshmark, anyone with an account can sell items from their closet. Other platforms work directly with merchants, such as Amazon, which uses celebrities and influencers to sell a variety of products, such as printers and kitchenware.

For Paige DeSorbo, podcast host and influencer on the Bravo reality series “Summer House,” hosting her own show on Amazon Live allows her fans to see a “completely different” side of her personality.

“People trust me on certain things, so they want to hear my opinion on fashion or beauty,” she says. “When I talk to them on set, I do feel like it’s more important that we’re friends.”

Ms. De Sobo, 30, has hosted her show weekly since late 2021, usually with two cameramen, a set designer and at least one producer filming episodes. She receives a flat hosting fee and commission from Amazon when people buy featured products on her Amazon page or during her live streams.

During a recent livestream, Ms. DeSorbo recreated outfits she shared on social media. As she tries on “dupes” (fashion term for knockoff versions of expensive merchandise), she answers audience questions about what to wear to events like comedy shows and summer vacation.

“It’s like talking to a wizard behind the scenes,” commented one of her 500-plus viewers, as Ms. De Sobo spoke of a recent trip with fellow reality TV cast members.

Deborah Weinswig, founder of Coresight Research, said companies need to teach landlords how to make sales and talk directly to shoppers, a worthwhile investment, especially for landlords. In China, companies initially hire sellers to promote specific brands. These sellers then go on to build their audiences, attract shoppers, and eventually gain enough representation to choose their own products and brands.

“The biggest misconception is that celebrities will drive the industry,” Ms Weinswig said. “That’s why I think we’re derailed in America because you’re a celebrity or a creator — you don’t necessarily make a good host.”

Posh Shows doesn’t focus on celebrity hosts. Instead, anyone with a Poshmark account can go live — including Alex Mahl, who works full-time in a lawyer’s office and streams hours on Posh Shows after hours.

Mahl, 26, spends about 40 hours a week on side hustles, including hours preparing mostly Lululemon clothing for sale and uploading photos of them to the Poshmark app, where viewers can see the items throughout the show. By early May, she had sold more than $50,000 worth of inventory, and estimated her sales would reach $200,000 by the end of the year.

Ms Mahl considered making this her main job, but remained cautious. She gained early access to Posh Shows and kept tabs on her audience numbers as more users came online. On a recent Monday night, Ms. Mahl competed with dozens of other sellers, including a mother with a baby on her back selling a New York & Company dress for $8 and a man selling a Louis Vuitton dress starting at $475. Vuitton wallet.

“Am I concerned that more people will have access? Yes, I am,” Ms Marr said. “But I have a lot of faith in myself and what I’ve done for it that it will continue to do well.”

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