- Livestream shopping in the US is estimated to become a $25 billion market by 2023.
- Small businesses and resellers are using livestream shows to personally connect with customers.
- Our guide breaks down the top livestream platforms, how to get started, and tips from sellers.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Vivian Nguyen is paying for college with squishy, plushy Kawaii-themed toys. Turns out, these cute Japanese characters are a lucrative side hustle.
The San Francisco nursing student and influencer said she started on YouTube and sold her products on Mercari and eBay until she discovered Popshop Live, which launched in 2019. She became one of the first sellers on the livestream-shopping app, which allows viewers to buy the items they see on her stream in real time. In 2020, her business Cyndercake netted more than $60,000 in sales, which Insider verified with documentation.
Livestream shopping has been popular in China for over a decade, where the industry is estimated to be worth $305 billion this year, up from $63 billion in 2019, according to Coresight Research. The experience has been compared to QVC, but it’s much more personal than that — sellers speak directly to their audience, address each viewer by name, and tailor the show to questions asked in the chat. Pandemic-induced shutdowns accelerated the trend’s ascension in the US, where Coresight Research estimated it would become a $25 billion market by 2023.
Experts say livestreams are the mall of the future, where people will go to shop, socialize, and be entertained. Retailers who use livestream typically broadcast anywhere from three to eight hours, and some Insider spoke with make $1,000 to $9,000 per livestream.
For small businesses, livestreaming brings products straight to customers’ homes. But it’s more than a live feed of your shop — it’s about recreating the discovery of the in-person shopping experience and the personalized service of a friendly store associate. Done right, livestreams create a community of fans who look forward to gathering for your online events, respect your expertise, and are invested in your entrepreneurial journey.
Use the table of contents below to navigate our guide on the best livestreaming platforms, success stories from expert streamers, and the gear you need to get started.
There are several startups taking on the livestream market in the US, but a few apps in particular stand out in the ways they make this sales channel accessible to small businesses.
Popshop Live: for independent retailers
Dan Dan Li initially founded Popshop Live as a peer-to-peer resale app, then revamped it in 2019 to become a livestream-shopping app catered to retailers and e-commerce businesses.
Li told Insider the company had prioritized working with brick-and-mortar business owners because so many have been hit hard by the pandemic. Livestreaming has been a way for many sellers to reach a whole new breadth of online shoppers.
“Before Popshop, they talked to one customer at a time, and now they can talk to hundreds of customers at the same time,” she said.
Business owners need to fill out an application to become a seller on the app. Li did not disclose how applications are vetted, but Popshop Live is accepting more applications as the company’s team grows, she said.
Cost: Popshop Live takes a 9% commission on every sale.
Whatnot: for collectors
Whatnot is like a millennial eBay catered to resellers and collectors. Founders Grant LaFontaine and Logan Head are collectors themselves and felt like their experience on eBay hadn’t changed since the ’90s.
“Selling is now happening on social media with things like live video or posting things on Instagram,” LaFontaine told Insider. “eBay didn’t have any of those tools, and even its existing tools weren’t really well-optimized for buyers and sellers of collectibles.”
So in 2019, LaFontaine quit his job at Facebook, Head left his job at the sneaker-resale marketplace GOAT, and together they started Whatnot in hopes of modernizing online resale. Last year, the startup raised $4 million in seed funding.
While anyone can shop on Whatnot, not everyone can sell on the app, so businesses have to apply for the wait list. The team then reviews applications and accepts established businesses with a good reputation and high sales volume on other platforms.
Cost: Whatnot takes an 8% commission on every sale.
Livescale: Shopify users and luxury brands
Founded in 2016, Livescale started as a platform to help content creators with their livestreams. The company then began to explore adding shopping features, and the pandemic brought in dozens of brands looking to hold online live events while their customers couldn’t shop in store. Last year, the company partnered with Shopify so that any business with a Shopify account could easily integrate live shopping events into their e-commerce site.
Virgile Ollivier, a cofounder and the CEO of Livescale, told Insider livestream shopping would soon become just as important for brands as social-media marketing.
“Live shopping is the first step in what we call experiential commerce, that really huge space you have between retail and traditional e-commerce,” he said.
Cost: Livescale charges sellers a monthly subscription fee, depending on the scale of support they want. Plans for Shopify merchants start at $490 a month. And in the coming weeks, the company will be releasing a lower-tier plan for $100 a month.
There are plenty of other livestream-shopping platforms, like TalkShopLive, Ntwrk, and ShopShops, each with its own style and user experience. Explore them all to figure out which best fits your business needs.
Apps focused solely on livestream shopping show a disconnect on traditional social-media platforms. Robert Valentine and Lisa Bosco have been reselling Funko Pop figurines — collectible bobbleheads of movie, show, and cartoon characters — on Facebook and Instagram since 2018 under their brand FunkoWhisperers. They said they turned to Whatnot when Instagram’s live feature couldn’t support their weekly live auctions.
Instagram Live has a slight delay in broadcast, which presents a difficulty in facilitating seamless conversation and sales with viewers. Comments don’t appear on the screen in chronological order, hindering a truly authentic auction or preorder because the seller can’t be sure who claimed a product first.
“Whoever we saw wrote ‘claim’ first, they would get the Pop,” Bosco said. “But sometimes it would just be all over the place. It was crazy.”
Instagram also doesn’t provide a way to connect livestreams to direct sales, so viewers aren’t technically making a purchase until hours after the livestream. Valentine and Bosco manually wrote down who claimed each product, then they would direct-message the winner to get shipping information and collect payment through PayPal or Venmo. The whole process was time-consuming, and without any money on the line, they risked losing the sale if the winner backed out.
Once they moved their auctions to Whatnot, it became a much-smoother and automated process. Livestreams, comments, and bids are broadcast in real time. So when they hold an auction, the winner instantly secures their purchase and gets charged directly through the app.
There are five main elements sellers need to be successful on livestream platforms, according to business owners who have made thousands of dollars in sales through livestreaming.
Personality gets customers invested in supporting you
Like YouTubers, livestream sellers should have an authentic personality and a presence that engages viewers. Nguyen suggests sellers get comfortable with being on camera and really displaying their personalities as much as the products.
“Sell yourself and your products in a way where people would be interested in supporting you and purchasing the products, not just for the item but also because of who you are as a person,” she said.
When Nguyen introduced an original set of characters for stickers and key chains, she told her viewers the story of how she designed them and where she got the inspiration.
“That’s what made my viewers more in love with my brand,” she said. She sold out of the merch within seconds.
Expertise is key to gaining customers’ trust
Next, sellers’ expertise is a major part of establishing trust and authenticity, and it goes beyond surface-level product knowledge.
Most successful livestreamers are immersed in the same hobbies and interests as their customers. If you sell anime products, you should know the stories behind the characters. Or if you sell baseball cards, you should follow the sport and read up on baseball history. Viewers notice if you’re truly passionate about the topic, and they may fall off if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Valentine recommends following the shows your customers are watching so that when something major happens in the latest episode of say, “Stranger Things,” he knows he should sell Funko Pops of the show’s characters that week.
“You gotta relate to the Pop that you’re selling,” Valentine said. “I know people — they’ll sell things they can’t even pronounce the name, and that kind of irks me.”
Create an environment where customers want to hangout
While the goal is to sell products, viewers expect a casual environment that feels like they’ve logged on to hang out with friends. Think of how a morning-talk-show host involves the audience, instead of just talking at them. The average livestream show runs from a few hours to a full eight-hour workday, so sellers need to be able to keep viewers interested.
A good playlist in the background can also set the tone for viewers to linger.
“There’s a lot of the same customers that come to our lives, and they stay the whole three to five hours,” Bosco said.
“Sometimes they won’t even buy anything — they’ll just want to watch,” Valentine added.
Basic equipment will make your show look more professional
You can start livestreaming without major equipment, but a few basics will elevate the quality of your show. First, you usually can’t livestream without a phone or tablet, since most apps are not available for desktop. Plus, a handheld device is best for easily moving around your space. You’ll also need a stable internet connection. If your WiFi is spotty, consider getting an extender to ensure your show won’t lag or cut out.
Next, a tripod will keep your phone stable and allow you to adjust the height and positioning. Look for a model that makes it easy to remove your phone when you want to switch to handheld midlivestream. Cindy Cortez, the owner of Newtown HQ in New York, uses her tripod to quickly move around her store when viewers request to see specific products. She also switches to a smaller tripod when she wants to lay products out on a table.
Depending on the product you sell, you may want to invest in some creative displays like shelves or stands. Valentine and Bosco use an automated turntable when they auction off Funko Pops so they can easily show all angles of the piece.
Finally, you’ll want good lighting in your space so viewers can see products clearly. If you don’t already have adequate lighting in your store or office, you can get a ring light or a couple of standing lights.
Consistency and engagement keep customers loyal
Once you have all the basics, the rest comes over time with consistency. Most sellers livestream at least once a week, at the same time so their followers always know when to expect a show. They also use other social-media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to promote their shows and provide previews of the products they’ll be showcasing.
“Always be consistent and active because your followers will notice,” Nguyen said. “If they see you disappear for a couple of months, they kind of start to forget about you and wonder where you’ve been.”