Enabled by the trifecta of rapid growth in online video, influencer marketing and social commerce, live-stream shopping could fast-become the QVC-ification of influencer marketing.


In July last year, Amazon launched Amazon Live for influencers. A few weeks later Instagram and Facebook brought out live shopping features. Also in August TikTok hosted its first shoppable live stream event in a collaboration with home shopping network, Ntwrk. 

In December the Chinese owned app went mainstream when it hosted a shoppable live stream event in partnership with Walmart where users were able to shop for Walmart fashion items featured by TikTok creators without having to leave the app.

The Financial Times reported last weekend on rumours that TikTok will be “rolling out “live-streamed” shopping.” Though the paper noted that TikTok had declined to comment on this potential feature enhancement. 

We know that the Covid-19-induced lockdown has pulled forward a huge amount of future adoption to eCommerce. Livestream shopping has the potential for fast-growth within social commerce - a subset of eCommerce.  This QVC-ification has been made possible by the trifecta of online video, influencer marketing and e-commerce.

We’re slow to adopt live stream shopping in the West. Whilst Amazon, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are only just beginning to embrace live stream shopping - this QVC-ification of influencer marketing has been big business in Asia since 2016. Providers such as Shopee, Pinduoduo, Taobao and Douyin are all well entrenched in that market.

Last year’s Chinese mid-year shopping festival on July 1st generated revenues of $449.5 million from live stream shopping. Almost one third of internet users in China have purchased goods via live broadcasts that link directly to product web pages, research shows.

Though Western social media platforms have been slow on the uptake top Internet celebrities have long-since seen its potential. In 2019, for example, Kim Kardashian West co-hosted a Chinese livestream channel with Viya on China’s e-commerce platform Taobao.

Kardashian appeared on Viya’s live stream to promote her signature KKW fragrances. According to an Alibaba report Kardashian sold 150,000 bottles of the perfume during the single appearance. 

Historically Western social commerce has been dominated by advertising, rather than transactions. One reason for the West’s sedate push into live stream shopping may lie in its consideration of social media. Is it primarily a creative outlet or a commercial one? We are about to discover whether it can be both.

Verge has called shoppable live streaming a modern twist on QVC. Where shoppable live streaming wins over QVC, however, is that influencers bring

  1. Distribution via their engaged online communities
  2. Creativity in the content they produce
  3. Subject matter expertise

And this brings us to wanghong. The Chinese use the term wanghong to differential between internet celebrities and content creators.

Wanghong translates to “red on the internet” with the colour red signifying popularity. The descriptor broadly refers to highly prolific internet users who are effective conduits for channelling online retail businesses, writes Dr Crystal Abidin in her book: Internet Celebrity (SocietyNow).

Typically young and female wanghongs differ from KOLs (key opinion leaders) - who are the Chinese equivalent of the Anglocentric understanding of social media influencer. A wanghong is “premised on the acute ability to convert internet viewer traffic to money, relying less on content production than the ability to hold an audience’s attention” writes Abidin. 

I discussed the concept of wanghong, the QVC-ification of influencer marketing and social commerce with Brendan Gahan last week on the Influencer Marketing Lab podcast.

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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