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Exclusive Q&A: Free People unlocks sales with livestream commerce

Free People live commerce
Free People is offering shoppers a new form of digital commerce.

Free People is engaging and converting customers with its livestream shopping effort.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Libby Strachan, director of brand marketing at Free People, about why and how the specialty apparel retailer, a banner of Urban Outfitters Inc., leverages a platform from Bambuser to offer customers a livestream shopping experience.

What made Free People consider livestream shopping?

We saw the growth and popularity of livestream shopping, both in China and spreading worldwide. Free People started to see a few of our competitors test live shopping, and we really try to be on the forefront of innovation in the marketing space. So once we started seeing competitors utilizing and testing live shopping, we decided it would be a great time for us to dip our toes in the water.

This was in summer 2021. At that time, it was no longer peak pandemic, but COVID-19 was more of an issue than it is now. We were also looking for a solution that would let us speak to fit and styling for customers who were not coming into retail stores.

What made Free People investigate and select the Bambuser solution?

Some of the best brands in the industry, like Pret a Porter, were working with Bambuser, so the company was a clear front runner. We went through several rounds of looping in our tech team at Urban Outfitters Inc, just to make sure everything integrated smoothly with our custom-built site.

Implementation took less than three months. Bambuser could really customize things with our branding and have it live on our site and look very seamless, incorporating our fonts and logo in a way that doesn't feel intrusive to the customer. Our first livestream episode ran in November 2021.

What is a Free People livestream session like?

Each episode is about 15 to 30 minutes in length. We have a variety of programs and can air something that's been pre-recorded or air a live episode. The content sometimes featuring internal employee hosts from the design team, styling team or merchandising team, talking through and speaking to product specifics.

Free People has also worked with external partners, such as influencers and celebrities, to act as hosts. These have included social influencers like Remy Bader and Kelsey Kotzur. We also have a recurring series hosted by Rumer, Scout and Talullah Willis, the daughters of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. They're really funny and relatable, and we tend to see our highest tune-in and sales metrics when they come for their seasonal hosting episode.

How do customers view, engage and make purchases with the livestream episodes?

If it's a live episode, customers can comment in the chat and they can ask real-time questions of the hosts, who are able to see the questions pop up on their screen.

Viewers can also see the specific products that the hosts are currently talking about featured. They can click a product from a list of all the products featured in that episode on the side. The item will pop up for them and they can select attributes like size and color and then add to their cart as they watch.

Everything is hosted on our site. Bambuser is seamlessly integrated to our e-commerce site, so customers can add products to their cart as they're watching and then complete the purchase on the site.

Can you provide any livestream performance metrics?

We have run 35 livestream episodes in a roughly two-year period, with more than 79,000 unique viewers across those episodes. Also, there is a lower return rate for orders placed as a result of live shopping episodes. That proves to us that these episodes are helping our customers better understand how a product fits.

And we have found that when we use our own internal employees, like the design team and the styling team, our customers want to hear from them just as much or even more than our external celebrity or influencer hosts. Live episodes can be accessed via our desktop or mobile site. I know Bambuser has launched app integration, but we have not gotten to that yet.

Also, while we are able to go live on Instagram and Tiktok, we find that audience is not very engaged. With our live shopping hosted on our site, we find we have an engaged audience that is primed to shop and interested in adding things to their cart.

Can you mention any future plans for this program?

Free People will continue to test and treat live retailing as a sandbox to figure out what type of content our customers want to see and engage with. We will continue to build our library of livestream episodes.

[Read more: Urban Outfitters parent pursues AI-based merchandising]


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