Are associates better than influencers for shopping livestreams?

Discussion
Source: YouTube/Molbak’s Garden + Home
Apr 22, 2021

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Aptos.

Livestreams are fast becoming the cable-cutting generations’ QVC. And who better to connect with local shoppers through livestreams than local associates?

Associates truly understand the shoppers who walk through our front doors every single day to breed both authenticity and trust.

To be sure, influencers still have a place in our video marketing strategies, but most have long ago traded any hint of authenticity for a new sponsorship, a few more likes or one more fistful of followers. In addition to what I believe will be their soon-to-be-waning influence, influencers simply cannot connect with consumers at a local level.

Associates have actual authenticity, not exaggerated and subsidized claims of authenticity. (“These boots are soooo legit!”)

No swag, no stylized selfies. Just real people, talking about their real experiences with real products and real customers.

While associate livestreaming is still relatively new, a few streams are starting to appear.

One standout to me is Italian fashion retailer Motivi, which produces regular associate-led livestreams featuring store associates from across the chain. The “set” is well lit and free of distractions, the lighting and sound are excellent, and the associate presenters are personable, knowledgeable and even appear to be having fun.

But what really stands out to me is the viewing experience. Once joining a broadcast, participants engage with the presenters via an integrated chat function. I can share my reactions to the merchandise and see how other viewers are reacting. Shopping for pieces is just a click away, with the livestream even staying with me while I browse product details.

Great associate livestreams are not limited to large chains, nor to fashion and beauty categories.

Single-store Molbak’s Garden + Home center in Woodinville, WA, produces monthly livestreams that feature associates presenting gardening advice, do-it-yourself tips and product information. While there’s no commerce integration, associates are knowledgeable, (mostly) comfortable on camera and always (here’s that word again) authentic.

I think it may be time to press pause on those influencer-led livestreams and let our associates do the talking. In the long run, I have a feeling associates will probably “fake it” far less and sell much more.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retailers use associates for livestreams rather than influencers? What are the likely advantages versus pitfalls to using associates in video marketing strategies?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"What better way is there to engage and connect with your customers and your community? And frankly, what better way to build trust?"
"As pointed out, authenticity is the key. How soon before the associates who are good at it start “acting/ faking” it?"
"In my view, the approach shows a real human face to a company — more so than an influencer ever could."

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23 Comments on "Are associates better than influencers for shopping livestreams?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The person doing a livestream should be knowledgeable, engaging, and good at communicating. Some associates can meet those needs and should not be overlooked; some influencers can meet those needs. Influencers may have pulling power because of their profile, but they need to be able to perform the other requirements too.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

Love the idea of associates being advocates. Some will embrace it more — and naturally be better at it — than others, but it offers super possibilities.

As the way in which retailers engage with customers changes to become more hybrid between channels — sometimes in store, sometimes via video — it seems only natural. It is an amazing way of a specific associate expanding their audience beyond the store.

You can imagine someone coming into store and engaging with the associate based on what they saw live streamed.

There are precedents for this — Halifax Building Society in the UK used a branch associate called Howard Brown for 8 years in all their advertising.

In my view, the approach shows a real human face to a company — more so than an influencer ever could.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Retailers should absolutely use associates for livestreams vs. influencers. They are authentic brand ambassadors and can actually engage the audience because of their product knowledge. Video is a great way to sell and streaming tells a story vs. a flat image/photos.

Disadvantages — it’s live and if you don’t have real time visibility to your inventory, you could be selling products you don’t have in stock.

The associate must have stellar selling skills — it takes a certain kind of person to engage customers via video but as long as the seller believes in the brand and product they are selling, it’s a great platform.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I am pleased to see so much enthusiasm for this idea. I wasn’t sure how people would react when I wrote my original post, but support has been very strong, like your opinion, Liza. Good points too, re: real-time inventory visibility…

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

As pointed out, authenticity is the key. How soon before the associates who are good at it start “acting/ faking” it? The key is for the whole production to have a goal of being authentic, and it starts from the writing.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
3 months 12 days ago

Using associates is a better idea than using influencers, but the associate really needs to be passionate about they are selling or what task they are performing. No one likes fakeness in their presenters.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
One of the reasons QVC works is because of the relationship customers have with the hosts; they become trusted friends. Viewers enjoy the banter between the host, the sales reps, and the chats with customers like them live on-air. That’s exactly what happens during a Facebook Live. My company works primarily with independent retailers and I am proud to say that those who adopted live streaming are doing very well. Many are actually more profitable than they were before the pandemic. That success is not because they hired some influencer to do their Facebook Lives, they do it themselves. The segments may not be as polished as a segment on QVC, but they are real and the interaction with viewers is fun. These retailers have connected with customers not only locally, but through word of mouth on a national basis, as their livestreams picked up speed. The best part is these daily and weekly segments are hosted by the owner and the associates who work in the store. What better way is there to engage… Read more »
Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Great points all, Georganne. It really is all about the connections, and I have been consistently impressed by the ability of unpracticed (and often unpolished) store personnel to make real connections during their livestreams.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Yes, absolutely, retailers should use associates for live streaming. It should be a premium position with premium pay. And of course the associate has to have the appropriate on-screen selling and presentation skills. But keep it real with real people. And keep it professional with the right level of digital, technical and set details. This is no time for amateur hour. It’s not TikTok.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Generally agree with you, Jeff. For example, in the video about the plants, it wouldn’t take much to zoom in on the plant being described. Still there is considerable appeal in “authentic amateurism.” Too much professionalism can make it look slick, scripted, artificial and soul-less.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Very good point. I could have stopped with “keep it real.”

Phil Chang
BrainTrust

If you remove the titles, the person in front of the camera needs to be authentic and knowledgeable. What we know is that consumers are really good at spotting fake reviews and pretenders. Probably two questions to think about:

1. An associate gets paid to work for the retailer. Is the retailer going to accept an honest review from an associate?

2. Not all retailers have embraced that their associates might be their best asset in every store. Does a retailer need to come to grips with that first? If not … see question #1.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Live streaming is quickly emerging as a multi-sensory consumer engagement model. As the opening in-store model shifts from a transaction-based to an experienced-based strategy, the role of the store associate, or eventually the brand ambassadors, will evolve.

The live streaming model could be a great way of connecting with consumers beyond the products and driving the relationships with the brand ambassadors to a new level. As long as the brand ambassadors are knowledgeable, personable, and have a great screen presence, they could be a viable option for live streaming events.

With that said, we should not underestimate the importance of both micro and macro-influencers. Whether they are sponsored or unsponsored, their scale, reach, and influence on the shopping journey should not be underestimated.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Good points all, Brandon. Do you think the influencers’ influence is here to stay? My sense is that they are losing popularity with most customer segments and that their influence may be waning, but I wonder about your opinion.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

It all depends, Dave. If you are referring to the Instagram model of influencers, I believe that has scaled out, and there is a level of fatigue setting in on that platform. However, if you look at the viral nature of TikTok, that has shifted the pendulum to the creative powers that are coming out of the Gen Z influencers.

TikTok is and will be a force to be reckoned with, and the creative influencers will be the drivers of this movement.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

We’re so far behind in this form of selling we need to try both to see what works best, and that may vary by retailer. Alibaba announced that they did $44 billion in live streaming last year and pretty much crickets from us, so big opportunity IMO.

One thing we learned from shooting videos: your best public speaker or top exec is not necessarily your best video star. You’ll be surprised — some of your part time help may be amazing on camera, you just never know. So, like everything else today, test and learn, test and learn.

Peter Smith
Guest
3 months 12 days ago

There are clearly going to be occasions where “influencers” make sense — how could there not be in a Kardashian world? (Sigh.) But I believe customers will be responsive to sales associates as long as the deliverable has a base level of professionalism. That means sales associates who have a comfort level in front of camera, with good body language and who are articulate and informed. It also means the lighting and audio need to be professional so that it doesn’t distract from the message.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Many influencers and the content they “promote” have tipped the scale to become plain old noise in the marketplace. The few influencers who are really successful sell “aspiration.” Compare to that, the new store associate-hosted live streams designed to “educate” which in turn leads to the “inspiration” to buy. The knowledgeable Molbak’s associate did a great job of presenting and personalizing plants. Who knew certain plants oxygenate our homes better than others and at the same time remove air toxins in our homes? Really valuable information, delivered in a friendly manner, just like a personable in-store conversation. Great job Dave Bruno, for identifying the bountiful opportunities of associate live streams. Now please excuse me as I need to go out and buy some plants.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
First, did everyone notice that Dave is doing re this article what he’s recommending for retailers? Engaging with the audience. Makes me wonder what other ideas he has for retail. Isn’t that the whole point? Second, this is one of the most thoughtful insights I’ve seen in a long time. Technology is not the answer to customer relationships, authentic people are. Dave is right, the influence of influencers is rapidly waning. Somewhere in most organizations is someone with the necessary presence, energy, charisma to be the livestream associate face of the shop. The first place I’d look is at employees who don’t fit the stereotype, that have something different about them. Who might be regarded as a “character.” The retail version of the “It” factor. Also keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be a “straight to camera” performance. Few truly have that as a natural gift. Various forms of interview can also help. For example, what if a manager interviews a floor associate about specific products in a way that demonstrates the associate’s… Read more »
Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Wow, Ian – thanks so much for the kind words, of course, but mostly for the thoughtful response. I have not seen nor considered the interview format as an alternative to “straight to camera” videos. Fantastic idea! Thanks again, Ian!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Wasn’t this settled yesterday? Didn’t we all but advocate subbing the word “mercenary” for “influencer”? No? then how ’bout “paid shill”?

OK, OK, suffice it to say I’m clear where I stand, but in the interest of balance I will add that all methods of promotion have their shortcomings. It’s all too easy to describe an amateurish performance by an associate as “authentic,” and forget the old maxim “it’s the message, not the messenger.”

Rachelle King
BrainTrust
Really interesting take to leverage associates for livestreaming. For some categories, store associates may have tacit knowledge, contextual experiences and personal passions that may be hard to translate to an influencer. However, there may be some trade-offs for that level of authenticity. Right now, influencers are “sexy” and hot commodities. Some store associates can’t really compete with that kind of appeal. Further, not all store associates are influencers; some are simply there to ring up your order or point you in the right direction. Good influencers are skilled at building buzz, excitement and yes, influencing. I’d suggest peeling back a few more layers; particularly as it relates to possibly having employees do the same work as influencers at little or no influencer cost.
David Adelman
Guest

Nothing can replace a true Brand Ambassador; however, live streams will only be increasing in frequency, as we’ve seen happen in Asia over the last few years.

Influencers have instant, short-term credibility but do they truly believe in the products they are promoting? Brand ambassadors and highly trained associates have the detailed knowledge that consumers crave. They can answer questions relating to how a product is manufactured, its sustainability, or even if it will fit into a customer’s lifestyle.

Influencers are like paid actors, getting paid to promote various consumer products. A true Brand Ambassador will have the inherent enthusiasm to gain the most important part of any transaction — trust.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"What better way is there to engage and connect with your customers and your community? And frankly, what better way to build trust?"
"As pointed out, authenticity is the key. How soon before the associates who are good at it start “acting/ faking” it?"
"In my view, the approach shows a real human face to a company — more so than an influencer ever could."

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