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Amazon launches QVC-style livestream shopping in India

Amazon has launched QVC-style livestream shopping in India, the company said Friday, broadening its offerings in the key overseas market where it has deployed over $6.5 billion to win customers.

The retail group has rolled out the new service, called Amazon Live, bringing an army of more than 150 creators to host livestreams and plug products in the videos. The idea is, influencers, with already a large following, will drive their fans to the shopping app and influence them into buying products. They get a cut each time they are able to make a sale.

Amazon Live is currently hosting livestreams across several categories, including electronics, fashion and beauty, and home decor. The videos were averaging 30 to 600 simultaneous views at the time of publication. The company says it will run 15 livestreams a day between 10 am to 1 am. During the company's ongoing festive sale, it expects to stream over 450 hours of content.

The launch follows Walmart-owned Flipkart, Amazon's chief rival in India, also testing a similar offering on its app early this year. Amazon itself quietly launched Live in the U.S. in 2019, attempting to get a slice of a nascent shopping trend made popular by YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

The live content on Amazon will include streams from mainstream celebrities including Bollywood actor Parineeti Chopra and Indian badminton player Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (PV Sindhu). Other than offering livestreams, Amazon Live will allow customers to communicate directly with influencers through comments. This brings the requirement of moderation — to avoid instances of abuse and hatred.

Kishore Thota, director, Customer Experience & Marketing, Amazon India, told TechCrunch in an interview that the company wants to bring different "thought leaders" in particular spaces. "Even if we take like what we call celebrities, we look at topics where they are respected for their thought leadership in that space. So, the movie celebrity could be there but it's not just because there are movie celebrities, they are movie celebrities but probably they know really well about dressing for a special event," he said.

Live shopping originally gained traction in China, where many influencers consistently sell items worth millions of dollars in a single broadcast. Austin Li, a popular influencer, sells more than $1 billion worth of goods in a session.

But whether the model will work in India remains a big question.

In the meantime, New Delhi is preparing to tighten rules to root out fake and paid reviews of products on e-commerce websites and social media platforms. A framework of regulations targeting people who endorse merchandise will soon be released, the government has said. Amazon said it will always make sure it is compliant with local laws.

Amazon Live section on the Indian shopping app. Image Credits: TechCrunch screen capture

On an FAQ page, Amazon has identified the influencer program as an extension of its Amazon Associates (affiliate) program. The company requires these influencers to have an account with YouTube, Instagram, TikTok or Facebook to qualify.

Thota said that Amazon uses its existing moderation techniques, including machine learning algorithms, to eliminate foul language in real time. Although Amazon will be able to attract customers to buy new products through its live commerce experience, Thota said the company is currently not paying any emphasis to the sales side of the move and focusing primarily on getting more customer engagements through live streams.

Influencers have a significant role in what they want to talk about during their streams, he said. He, though, mentioned that sellers could transform into big influencers on the platform over time. "We will work towards it as well to make it as prevalent with small businesses, individual sellers and really empower individuals with the best knowledge of that product in that space to become the influencer in this context," he said.

Amazon is lagging Flipkart in India on several key metrics and struggling to make inroads in smaller Indian cities and towns, according to a recent report by investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein. Amazon has so far offered “a weaker proposition in ‘new’ commerce” in the country, the report added, pointing to innovations by Flipkart and unicorn social commerce platforms Meesho and DealShare.

At stake is one of the world’s last great growth markets. The e-commerce spending in India, the world’s second-largest internet market, is expected to double in size to over $130 billion by 2025.

The story was updated with official comments from Amazon.