Stu Conroy Featured in OPI: B2B Live Commerce

Stu Conroy was recently featured in OPI Magazine, see the original article here.

Opinion: B2B live commerce – it could be for you

Live commerce sits on the very edge of our sector right now. But, as Highlands’ Stu Conroy says, the B2B space is certainly not exempt from the benefits of this next wave in the e-commerce revolution.

 

Headshot of Stu ConroyIt feels like we’re back to normal. As we emerge from the pandemic period, physical events are taking place again and traditional business conversations are happening once more. But some things will never be the same.

The past two years have seen incredible changes in terms of how many of us conduct business: we use video calls for sales and all manner of other communication; the physical retail landscape has changed and we all got used to buying more online. Factor in the shipping crisis and current inflationary pressures and it’s easy to work out that it has been difficult for brands to get – and stay – in front of the customer.

Often, it takes a crisis to alter our working practices. At Highlands, for instance, with our UK office empty as staff had gone home to work, we took the opportunity to turn the place into a live shopping studio. In a nutshell, we worked with our brands and manufacturers, and helped them talk directly to their audience.

Responsive element

But what is live shopping or live commerce and how does it fit into our predominantly B2B world? The concept of live shopping is not new, of course – we all know about the QVC channel which recently celebrated its 36th birthday. There are many others – Alibaba’s Taobao is the world’s biggest player on this particular stage.

The difference now is that technology has rapidly moved forward meaning brands increasingly have the ability to easily link their products to a live stream feed and talk about them directly to end users, distributors or retailers.

The responsive element of a live stream is far more engaging than a pre-recorded video production. You can answer the questions your audience has there and then to help influence purchasing. In addition, frictionless technology allows brands to take orders straightaway from their B2B or B2C audiences.

It is estimated by Forbes that live commerce by the end of this year will be worth $480 billion and $1.25 trillion in 2025. Much of this current total is derived from sales in Asia and comes from the fashion and beauty sector. On Singles’ Day in China in 2021, for instance – a major shopping event – one influencer sold $1.7 billion worth of beauty products in 12 hours.

Of course, these figures and predictions need to be digested with a pinch of salt as they will never apply to all companies, manufacturers or sectors. When I spoke at the recent OPI Global Forum in Chicago (read Focus: Pain points – and how to fix them), there was also a perceptible question mark in the room as to whether live shopping was indeed relevant to the business supplies industry – or any B2B setting for that matter. I would argue it’s most definitely worth looking at the technology and this exciting pathway of reaching existing and new audiences.

B2B relevance

So you can buy log cabins in Canada, second-hand Mercedes cars in Germany and property in China through live stream. But do you need to facilitate instant purchasing during a meeting with your B2B customer? You could just have a video call, take the order and process it – all while still on the call.

Live commerce gives options. You can tailor appointments to your audience, for example, making sure customers are seeing the products you believe they will be particularly interested in. Rather than a full catalogue, really focus on what you think they need.

If you are selling printers for warehouses, say, you may have a video showing these in action. How do you best answer the questions buyers might have though? Setting up a live stream from a warehouse cuts costs, allows you to show the product in reality and answer the queries pertinent to buyers. Once they see how the concept can work, they will no longer want to sit through a 30-minute demo which doesn’t actually address their concerns.

Compared to a trade event, live commerce is extremely cheap to set up. […] The largest cost component is usually driving traffic to your live stream

The cost factor

Cost is always an issue. Compared to a trade event, live commerce is extremely cheap to set up. Maybe not as much fun, but definitely cheaper. The evolution of the necessary technology over the past couple of years has put further downward pressure on expenditure. And it is possible to integrate with most systems seamlessly.

Indeed, the largest cost component is usually driving traffic to your live stream. The more of a database you have, the better. Then there’s the different conversation of reaching out to new audiences. Not all brands are ready to embrace TikTok, but recently we saw a fulfilment company get one million views on a video of their warehouse in operation. It’s surprising what people are interested in – they often want to see behind the scenes of companies, manufacturers and brands.

Content focus

The digital world in many ways is like the physical one – it’s not remote and abstract. If you’re solving a problem in a live demonstration, you are emotionally convincing buyers that they could sell the product in question to their customers too.

If you sell high end office furniture, on the other hand, you’ll want to show a more aspirational space and the emotive setting customers would aspire to be in. This can be created in a manufacturer’s existing showroom or office – it also saves people from having to get to the showroom.

When I travelled around China and the Far East, I found that, as a culture, people are far more likely to use technology in the selling process. If stores or showrooms are empty, for instance, staff actively have video calls with consumers and buyers who aren’t able to get over to their location.

Many of us like forging friendships and the engagement that in-person events and sales meetings bring, especially as we emerge from enforced stay-at-home and non-event periods. But it absolutely doesn’t have to be one or the other. Blending live and on-site demonstrations provides the best of both worlds and enables organisations to optimise their workforce.

Finally, it’s about leveraging all of the knowledge the sales team has – whether it’s internal or external sales – in a more visibly friendly way to buyers and end users.

My advice? Dont rule live commerce out, it might not be as obscure as you think.