The Future Of Live Shopping: A Conversation With Sune's Brian Beitler

Livestream and video-based shopping has yet to take hold in the West, while in Asian markets such as China an estimated $500 billion in goods were sold in 2023 via live-streaming apps like Douyin or Kuaishou.

Founder and general manager of live shopping platform sune Brian Beitler believes it won't be long before U.S. consumers become just as excited about this type of shopping.

Sune -- which is owned by Qurate Retail Group, the company behind classic video shopping pioneers like QVC and HSN -- is a fairly new app that is still in beta, made up of entertaining live and pre-recorded videos designed to help shoppers discover new products, makers and brands. 

Unlike social-media apps that continue to introduce new shopping features and host in-feed creator-led product videos, sune is focused on placing undiscovered brands and creators in a video-feed that is wholly dedicated to shopping. 

MediaPost talked with Beitler about the concept of taking window shopping to mobile, live versus pre-recorded video experiences, the future of live shopping in the U.S. and sune’s focus on capturing an audience that is younger than that of its sister companies QVC and HSN. 

MediaPost: What is sune’s main goal?

Brian Beitler: We're trying to build a new arm of the Qurate Retail Group (QRG) brand.

We want to find a way to bring emerging brands, their founders and their stories together with consumers who care a lot about unique and remarkable products and how their stories are told through influencers and creators.

We saw some areas of opportunity on social-media platforms’ new shopping capabilities, but they seemed like appendages. Shopping itself is an entertaining pastime -- we all used to travel to the mall for recreational purposes.

The question for use was ‘Where do you do that in the digital landscape today? Where can you lean back and enjoy the process of shopping with that being the intent?’

MP: So you want the consumer to avoid feeling tricked or targeted against their will?

Beitler: That’s exactly right. You already know you’re opening an experience where you get to go shopping. You know there will be storytellers there to tell you about products and brands with the intention of helping you make a buying decision.

We wanted to make a platform where selling wasn’t selling out -- users are there because they love products and brands and they want to shop and be entertained.  If you know exactly what you want to buy, ecommerce has made it so much easier and faster to make a purchase.

But what if you don’t know what you want to buy and just want to go shopping digitally?

MP: Do you think metaverse shopping experiences, like virtual malls, if we ever get them, will outdo this video-forward approach? 

Beitler: We often see ‘TikTok made me buy it’ viral campaigns, but it’s more about the influencer’s storytelling that made me buy the product. 

I don’t need an immersive virtual experience -- I just need someone compelling on the other side who has an authentic and authoritative voice that can demonstrate the product visually. 

MP: How is sune inspired by QVC and HSN?

Beitler: It’s the notion that compelling high-quality video storytelling is important.

Anyone can tell a product story on social platforms, and some people are great at this. But when you’re asking me to make a commercial exchange, we recognize that there needs to be a standard of content and delivery presented. 

That’s what’s allowed our sister companies to become multi-billion dollar businesses: knowing how to use video to tell commercial stories to people. 

MP: How did you diverge from that classic model when developing sune?

Beitler: Younger consumers don’t have the patience of watching an hours-long show -- they want to be able to experience a variety of product stories in a quick and compelling way, while accessing a seamless buying process with their thumbs. 

MP: Did your creators have social followings prior to joining sune?

Beitler: We have over twenty “sunesetters,” some of whom have social followings but others are just great storytellers -- they might have been actors or musicians who came out of the performing-arts space. 

MP: Will anything in particular surprise a first-time user?

Beitler: So far we’ve heard that it feels like TikTok mixed with an ecommerce website that allows you to search. We hope they are impressed with the product offerings. We’ve pursued unique products that solve a problem, made by undiscovered brands. 

MP: So these products would be difficult to find elsewhere?

Beitler: Right. We’re sourcing them from young and emerging brands. Not that we would never carry a national brand. That’s a possibility.

But this is our focus now: brands led by passionate leaders who have a compelling story and other values like sustainability, or maybe they are women led or BIPOC-led. 

MP: Why do you think livestream shopping has been unscalable in the West?

Beitler: With any new form of shopping, we think the equation is just time and audience development. Almost anytime something new has shown up -- malls and big boxes in the 60s and 70s, or later ecommerce -- it takes a while to get going. 

And it’s not just about live-streaming; what the consumer wants is a video-driven experience to better understand the product.

Sune runs live experiences every day but the vast majority of our content is pre-recorded video. You don’t have to meet us live to explore products that has worked for our sister brands, which has an older demographic.  

MP: What types of products are involved in this beta phase?

Beitler: We have fashion, apparel and accessories, along with home, beauty and food and pet products as well. Categories doing especially well are products focused on simple solves.

We’ve seen early success in products that help you live a better home life and beauty products with unique uses or ingredients. 

MP: Are users able to follow both brands and creators?

Beitler: They will be very soon. We are close to launching these features in the next few weeks. In addition, when you come on you give us a sense of your interests, which we’ll use to gauge what you see in your product feed.

Over time your product feed will become more personalized based on your in-platform activity. 

MP: Are there any other features planned to launch on sune?

Beitler: We are actually developing features that will help brands and creators make content for the platform, including video-guidance and content studios. 

MP: If TikTok gains traction with their in-app shopping plans, how will you coexist in the space?

Beitler: We think there is plenty of room in live and video-based shopping for many players and brands.

My hope is for TikTok to bring awareness to this way of shopping. That would be good for businesses that engage early on as this begins to gain traction in the U.S. 

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