Tech-focused retailers are turning to livestreaming as a way to combine online shopping with engaging content. Walmart has rapidly scaled up its livestreams, offering events with celebrities like singer Jason Derulo as it sells products like groceries, home goods and seasonal decor to viewers who tune in. Albertsons rolled out shoppable videos this fall and plans to host livestream events beginning next year.
Livestreaming has become a multibillion-dollar industry in China and is quickly expanding in the U.S., with the market set to hit $6 billion this year and $25 billion by 2023, according to Coresight Research.
For H-E-B, livestreaming has taken shape gradually and out of a necessity during the pandemic. As the health crisis took hold in early 2020, the Texas-based chain, like all other grocers, had to shut down high-touch departments and self-service areas for safety reasons. This included its Cooking Connections section, where chefs regularly put on cooking demonstrations, hand out samples and answer questions for shoppers.
H-E-B’s customers missed being able to visit the department, said Giovanna Dimperio, senior director of digital marketing, social media and content at H-E-B, and many were stuck at home either figuring out how to cook at home or refining their culinary skills. So the company decided to try moving Cooking Connections online.
Beginning last November, H-E-B held Zoom-based cooking classes where chefs went over popular recipes and practical kitchen skills. H-E-B’s marketing team fashioned the sessions, which occurred once or twice every week, around what shoppers were searching for on its website — like how to dice an onion, or how to make queso dip. Participants could buy ingredients needed to participate in each session beforehand, and then during each class they could interact with the chef using the chat function.
The classes were live, and they had an element of shoppability. But H-E-B wasn’t technically livestreaming yet. Earlier this year, Facebook reached out to the company to see if it wanted to try out its new livestreaming feature. The grocer agreed, and on July 1 launched a 12-hour livestream event called the Grilling Open that featured grilling tips by a rotating cast of culinary guests, with all products shoppable from H-E-B’s online platform.
In all, 400,000 people watched some part of the Grilling Open, showing H-E-B the potential of the livestreaming concept, Dimperio said. The company has also posted a video of the event on its YouTube channel.
“Some people actually stayed all 12 hours to watch along with us,” Dimperio noted in an interview.
H-E-B moved its Cooking Connections classes onto Facebook’s livestream platform after that, and the classes have continued on a weekly basis. Shoppers who tune in can watch each hour-long cooking demonstration, and on a side scrolling panel discover and buy all the products the chef uses, from prep bowls to fresh ingredients. A recent session hosted by Chef John Brand, head chef at Supper American Eatery in San Antonio, showed viewers how to make wheat berry pancakes and sweet potato gnocchi.
Each class typically has three parts, covering basic techniques and simple recipes and building to more sophisticated dishes as the show progresses, Dimperio said. The idea is to make each show accessible for shoppers no matter their cooking skills, she said. She cited a recent example where a Cooking Connections chef showed viewers how to assemble a simple chips and queso appetizer using H-E-B products, then showed them how to thinly slice — or chiffonade — fresh herbs.
“There's kind of an assembly part, there's a technique part, and then there's the education of what it's like to bring a whole recipe from start to finish to your table,” Dimperio said.
Expanding social commerce during the holidays
H-E-B has continued to expand its use of the livestreaming platform. In September, it hosted a livestreaming event with influencer Yvonne Guidry, popularly known as Spoiled Latina, celebrating Hispanic Heritage month. Guidry covered recipes like fajitas made using H-E-B’s Mi Tienda private label meat, tortillas and seasoning.
On Thursday, H-E-B hosted an hour-long holiday special hosted by actor James Van Der Beek. The program featured holiday-themed merchandise like toys and gingerbread house-making kits as well as recipes by various culinary experts. It also featured giveaways like gift cards for viewers that tuned in and responded to prompts from the hosts, like sharing a favorite holiday memory using the chat tool. Throughout the special, product listings popped up in the video feed with a button that took shoppers to H-E-B’s e-commerce site.
Dimperio said H-E-B is looking to continue trying out new livestreaming occasions in 2022, but declined to detail its plans. The company is using the Facebook platform for now but is “platform agnostic” as it looks ahead.
H-E-B has also been expanding its use of social commerce tools overall through channels like Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, helping the company reach coveted young consumers. This holiday season, the grocer is testing a new function with Pinterest that shows culinary content and lets viewers “pin” their favorite ideas and shop the ingredients.
Social commerce is an emerging digital frontier for grocers as they seek new ways to connect with shoppers who are cooking and shopping more from home. Generating interest can be a challenge, since retailers have to venture outside their core competency and compete with food content players and streaming services for consumers’ attention. But H-E-B is showing that grocers can generate a loyal content following. The company currently has more than 1.6 million Facebook followers.
Dimperio said the key is building authority with shoppers, listening to them and offering information they can really use.
“What is the way the customer wants to be talked to? What is the content we think is useful? How can we tailor it to their needs instead of just focusing on what we want to do? What is the entertainment value?” she said. “That is where we have found a lot of success, I think. If it doesn't do those things, it doesn't go out."