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Guide | September 30, 2021

Scientific study provides tips for boosting livestream eCommerce engagement

The future is here, and you can find it in China.

By that, we mean the future of livestream commerce, of course. It’s no secret that the world’s most populous country is ahead of the curve when it comes to livestream commerce adoption, as evidenced by the dizzying US$7.5 billion in transactions Alibaba’s livestream platform recorded in just 30 minutes last October.

Livestream commerce is just in its infancy in much of the rest of the world, but it’s a rapidly growing eCommerce sales channel. For example, the US streaming market is expected to hit $6 billion in value by the end of this year and more than quadruple by 2023, according to Coresight Research.

As livestream commerce grows around the world, brands and eCommerce retailers should be looking to take advantage and secure their space in the market. But where can they find insights into how to do livestream commerce successfully? 

The answer is China, of course, which is exactly where some scientists looked when they wanted to find out how to enhance viewer engagement in eCommerce streaming.

What the study tried to find out

Engagement isn’t just what you do before getting married, it’s also a key metric for measuring livestream commerce success.

While the most important metric is of course sales (otherwise it wouldn’t be called livestream commerce), viewer engagement is in some regards just as crucial. After all, if just five viewers buy your product out of an audience of 100 during a livestream, you still have a better chance of selling to the other 95 people in the future if you provided them with an engaging experience.

With the importance of engagement to livestream success in mind, three scientists from Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in China and National Chiayi University in Taiwan set out to find out how streamers can boost their engagement. Their research paper, “How can live streamers enhance viewer engagement in eCommerce streaming?” provides an in-depth look into the psychological techniques successful streamers employ to keep their audiences engaged.

The researchers started with four hypotheses to test in a bid to discover the recipe to livestream eCommerce engagement.

1. Perceived online intimacy aids online engagement

The use of illusions of intimacy through media to sell products is nothing new (hello, QVC), so starting with this supposition makes sense.

2. Live streamer authenticity boosts perceived intimacy

If perceived intimacy boosts online engagement, it follows to figure out what leads to perceived intimacy. One way could be by the streamer presenting themselves authentically, which rather than being a nebulous concept the researchers break down as follows:

“Authenticity is a multidimensional concept that includes four dimensions in authentic advertising execution: preserving (personal) brand essence, honoring (personal) brand heritage, showing realistic plots and presenting credible messages.”


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If terrible tattoos are authentically part of your brand, it's important to show them off.

3. Viewers' attitudinal similarity with live streamers boosts perceived intimacy

We tend to trust salespeople we share some commonalities with rather than total strangers (ever wonder why cold calling is so tough?), so it may follow that “live streamers [who] express similar views or demonstrate similar attributes to those of their viewers” may create more perceived intimacy.

4. Consumer response capability boosts perceived intimacy

Customer support quality has long been a way brands can stand out for better or worse, and the researchers guessed that it’s also a way for streamers to secure more perceived intimacy by showing viewers that they care about their problems and desires.

To test these theories, the researchers surveyed 537 people on their feelings about their interactions with their favorite live streamers or those they were familiar with. Let’s dive into the results to see what you can take away and put to good use for your eCommerce business,

4 key takeaways from the study

1. Intimacy breeds engagement

First of all, the findings showed that the more intimacy a live streamer can inspire with their viewers, the more engaging their streams will be.

“While livestream shopping is a form of hawking products by way of multiway interactions among product owners, live streamers, and their viewers, viewers often perceive it as a private two-way interaction between themselves and the live streamer. 

“This is because visually, the only human the viewer perceives is the live streamer. There is no visually depicted live studio audience or audio cue from conversations with other viewers. 

“Communication from other viewers appears as text messages in a sidebar, which is no different from how regular text messages from unrelated individuals will appear while one is having a private video conference,” the researchers wrote.

2. Customer response is key

Who knew processing refunds and live chat sessions were a shortcut to intimacy? The study found that of the three ways to boost perceived intimacy (and therefore engagement), live streamers’ customer response capability was the most important.

They broke this down into two dimensions, customer response expertise, and speed. As livestream platforms typically display viewer comments on screen, streamers can respond to them in real-time. The researchers found that those streamers who responded fastest and most effectively were able to boost perceived intimacy. 

“Viewers thus feel their needs are known and cared for deeply by streamers, leading to perceived intimacy and close relationships with the streamers,” they wrote.

3. Keeping it real

Close behind customer response, authenticity is also a key indicator of a streamer’s ability to inspire intimacy, the researchers found. Notably, the survey showed that presenting products in everyday, real-life situations (referred to as realistic plots) was the best way to come across as authentic. They gave an example of a streamer recommending the daily use of lipstick “in the voice of an ordinary, unidealized character, such as the viewer’s old friend.”

“Our results illustrate streamers' personal brand essence, personal brand heritage, realistic plots and credible messages are important components of their authenticity. The results show that the weight of providing realistic plots in live streams is greater than those of others, making it the most important predictor of streamer authenticity,” they wrote.

“During a live stream, plots unfold in front of viewers and viewers’ real-time interactions in the plots can help easily validate its authenticity,” they continued, before cautioning that the streamer, their message, and how they deliver it are all factors that authenticity is associated with, so even one factor coming across as inauthentic is a problem.

4. Dogs are cute, but not necessarily important

Finally, while the study did find that perceived attitudinal similarity helps boost intimacy, it was the least important of the three factors studied. So we can infer that while it helps if a live streamer selling gourmet pet food brings their dog on camera to show how much they love them, it’s not the be-all and end-all for increasing engagement.

“When live streamers express similar views or demonstrate similar attributes to those of their viewers, they may be regarded as appropriate references by their audience and help validate viewers’ personal worth and important aspects of their identities, leading to their perceived intimacy with the streamer,” the scientists wrote.

What it means for businesses

To break down what businesses can learn from these findings, we spoke to one of the members of the research team, Gloria H.W. Liu, an assistant professor at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.

The findings regarding authenticity and the importance of a streamer’s personal brand are factors businesses need to consider when venturing into livestream commerce, Gloria tells SmartOSC.

“Now the market is so saturated with so many live streamers and so one thing for companies to pay attention to is that they will have to choose live streamers whose personal brand is in line with their company’s brand,” Gloria says.

The importance of customer response is also noteworthy for businesses, according to Gloria, as this can give smaller companies the chance to compete more effectively in the streaming game.

“Top live streamers obviously will charge very high prices, very high commissions. So not every company can afford to hire live streamers to work for them. 

“So for startups, for small to medium-sized enterprises, it's also a good option to work with less well-known live streamers, even though that they probably have a less well-known personal brand, but based on our research findings, how the live streamer responds to their viewers is even more important than a personal brand,” she says.

“For small companies, finding live streamers who are more caring for their viewer it might be a good strategy for them,” Gloria adds.

However, those with a background in traditional eCommerce should take note that customer expectations are a good deal higher in livestream commerce

“Their [a streamer’s] response, their effective response, or speedy response, to the customer is something the viewers can validate on the spot,” she says.

“Customer response speed is something which is very different from traditional eCommerce. Because when you leave a message on a company’s website, they can reply within two days and customers are happy with that. But streamers don't have that kind of luxury.”


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How a livestream shopper feels after waiting five minutes for customer service.

Lights, camera, action!

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