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BusinessE-commerce & FulfillmentModern ShipperNewsRecent NewsTechnology

Social media livestreams drive increased sales for major brands

E-commerce is exploding on platforms like TikTok as brands leverage influencers for special sales events

In September 2020, Dunkin’ – the iconic Massachusetts-based coffee and doughnut chain – launched a new drink. The Charli was a Dunkin’ Cold Brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl. It also happened to be the drink of choice for Charli D’Amelio – the teen megastar of TikTok famous for her dance moves.

“Everyone knows that Charli runs on Dunkin’, and now Dunkin’ runs on Charli,” said Drayton Martin, vice president of brand stewardship at Dunkin’, in a press release. “This is the partnership fans have been rooting for since Charli first danced onto TikTok with her Dunkin’ Cold Brew in hand. Charli is one of our biggest fans and the feeling is mutual. We’re thrilled to finally make it official and make it easy for people to run on Dunkin’ just like Charli.”

To coincide with the limited-time drink offering, Dunkin kicked off the Charli x Dunkin’ contest, inviting fans to use the #CharliXDunkinContest hashtag for a chance to virtually meet D’Amelio herself. 

D’Amelio also “took over” the Dunkin’ social channels for the month of September, posting exclusive content. The use of social media by Dunkin’ was not necessarily original, but stands out as one of 2020’s top moments for a brand’s ability to leverage the medium for sales.

D’Amelio, along with her sister Dixie, has been tapped by other companies for social media campaigns, including those conducted by Hollister and Morphe. Addison Rae, another top influencer on TikTok, fronts American Eagle among others. Of course, the Kardashian sisters have long used social media to promote their brands.

But the Dunkin’ campaign somehow seemed different – and it is part of a trend among brands to improve their social status in search of customers.

“Livestreaming, also called shop streaming, offers a unique opportunity for trendy and trusted social media influencers to interact directly with their followers and offer a compelling opportunity to both engage and shop with exclusivity,” Stacy DeBroff, CEO of Influence Central, said. “Livestreaming takes place in real time, normally on a smartphone, marries social media interactions with e-commerce purchasing and creates a powerful group social shopping dynamic missing from going with friends in-store shopping.”

Influence Center is a firm dedicated to influence marketing, helping brands drive more engagement for more than a decade.

Walmart (NYSE: WMT) hosted a livestreamed TikTok event in December, and according to William White, chief marketing officer, it led to a 25% increase in TikTok followers and netted seven times more views than the company anticipated. The event was such a success that Walmart did it again Thursday night, hosting the “Spring Shop-Along: Beauty Edition” event. More events are planned.

The event featured creator Gabby Morrison, who creates dance moves has more than 3.5 million followers on TikTok. National, private and Black-owned brands such as NYX, Maybelline, The Lip Bar, Bliss, Kim Kimble and Marc Jacobs fragrances were part of the show, and viewers were given beauty tips, as well as tutorials on popular trends.

Read: $1,400 COVID relief checks to trigger surge in e-commerce shipments

The unique twist on livestreamed shopping is the ease of ordering.

“Beyond the entertainment and education, viewers will also find a seamless shopping experience. With the tap on any product pin, viewers can add items to their carts where they can check out during or after the event,” White said.

“Influencers excel at creating engaging, powerful content that resonates with their audience and leverages that audience’s trust in their curation of recommendations. Their passion can drive both brand interest and e-commerce conversions, thus unlocking their audience,” DeBroff noted.

DeBroff said that many consumers find the shopping experience during a livestream a positive one. A 2020 Influence Central survey of 475 U.S. consumers found 19% had tuned in to a livestreamed shopping event, with 86% having done so on Facebook and 30% on Instagram. The majority of consumers – 60% – said the live demos and product walk-throughs were the biggest draw.

The key is the trust that social media influencers have built up with their audience. Dunkin’s The Charli campaign worked because D’Amelio’s 109 million followers trust her, and she is a consumer of the product herself. That trust extends to pricing transparency.


“Influencers excel at creating engaging, powerful content that resonates with their audience, and leverages that audience’s trust in their curation of recommendations. Their passion can drive both brand interest and e-commerce conversions, thus unlocking their audience.”

Stacy DeBroff, CEO of Influence Central

“The special price or exclusive merchandise is key to a livestreaming’s event success. As most will be hosted by social media influencers, that trust by their followers will already be built in. Plus, it’s super simple by a quick online search to validate the best pricing,” DeBroff said.

The idea of television selling is not unique – QVC has been successfully doing this for decades – but the real-time interaction that social media platforms allow for is taking selling to the next level.

“TV shopping networks introduced on-air hosts with exclusive deals and discounts but lacked the social media interactivity and real-time interactions that distinguish livestreaming. Where the TV shopping networks were more like informercials, livestreaming offers up e-commerce infused with social media interactivity and entertainment,” DeBroff said.

As regulators seek to crack down on the ability of social media sites to collect and sell users’ data, they are more and more turning to e-commerce to generate new revenue streams. In early February, TikTok announced a partnership with WPP, which works on behalf of brands to drive sales. The agreement allows WPP clients early access to TikTok commerce features in development as well as exclusive collaboration opportunities.

Read: Did COVID kill retail stores? It’s complicated

“More and more brands all over the world are experiencing the impact TikTok has to create moments that not only shape culture but also drive business value,” Blake Chandlee, vice president of global business solutions of TikTok, said in a release. “Creative and media agencies play a major role in fueling these creative campaigns and we’re excited to partner with a global innovator like WPP as we build for the future. We both share a common goal: to drive amazing campaigns for our clients that resonate with our growing audience in a way that is authentic, inspires creativity and brings joy. We look forward to delivering on this shared goal for WPP, its agencies and clients.”

TikTok also has a partnership with Shopify, and Facebook offers Marketplace for e-commerce brands.

DeBroff said livestreamed events will continue to drive sales for businesses as consumers fear missing out on a good deal.

“[This] is definitely not a gimmick; it’s transforming e-commerce into dynamic, social, interactive events,” she said.

Click for more Modern Shipper articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight, managing editor, Modern Shipper

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and fleetowner.com. Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at bstraight@freightwaves.com.

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