The Chinese Live Streaming E-Commerce Craze

Tech adoption and associated consumer trends in China are a few years ahead of the west. One such trend took a massive boost through the COVID-19 crisis in China and has become a major craze.

It is the live-stream e-commerce which Chinese believe is the closest experience to shopping offline in a retail store.

Many Chinese e-commerce apps, live-streaming apps and super-apps have embraced this trend including TaoBao, WeChat and Douyin (TikTok China) and the shopping experience really is friction-less.

Here are some of the reasons why I think this trend will grow, not just in China, but in the west too.

Firstly, live-stream e-comm is great for product discovery. Amazon in its current form is great for search and buy shopping experience but awful for discovering new products. On the other hand, Instagram is a good platform for discovering new products, but doesn’t have a seamless shopping experience in its present form. Although, with the announcement of “shops”, there’s an obvious plan to change that.

Secondly, all the Chinese apps are offering in-app checkout. So you can tap on the products shown in the live-stream and conduct your purchase right within the app while the live-stream stays uninterrupted. Instagram plans to bring in-app checkout with “shops”.

Thirdly, the Chinese apps have in-app frictionless payment options e.g AliPay and WeChat Pay. Facebook/Instagram do not yet posses the capability to offer in-app payments, but plan to offer with Libra.

Fourthly, in-app streaming & shopping experience enhances consumer trust as the products are shown live instead of the photoshopped 3D photos and professional videos.

Fifthly, apps also offer AR try-ons. So you can try the products e.g glasses, shirts etc to get a feel of how they would look on you.

And lastly, the apps have built-in game mechanics with features to induce scarcity, and get credits/cashback for sharing the stream with your friends etc.

It is unbelievable how far in the future China is with e-commerce in comparison with the western counterparts. But I’m sure that the west will catch up to these trends.

Instagram and TikTok are best positioned in the west to capture this in the future. If you’re an influencer on one of these platforms, the great days will come as the west catches up with the Chinese frenzy.

Riding Along The Wave

Forbes is double-dipping in ad-revenue by publishing about Kylie Jenner. First they made the entire world read the headlines that Kylie is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

Months later they published that Kylie and her family lied about her billionaire status and that she is not yet a billionaire. Instead, she’s worth only 900 million.

I don’t know about you, but I see no difference in being a billionaire or being worth 900 million. If she’s worth 900 million, she will be a billionaire in 1 or 2 years.

Instead I thought of something else when I read the news. I thought that an instagram influencer is (nearly) worth a billion dollars. She’s built this empire using Instagram, a Shopify store, and by private labeling products.

I also thought that Facebook only paid a billion dollars for Instagram while today an Instagram influencer is worth a billion dollars.

I also thought about TikTok posting 17 billion dollars in revenue in 2019 and over 3 billion dollars in profits. And the fact that they have over 1.5 billion monthly active users, more than Instagram as well as Snapchat.

I thought about gaming influencers/streamers who are making tens of millions of dollars per month using Twitch, YouTube, etc.

I thought about influencer marketing. I thought about riding along the wave of a powerful platform such as TikTok.

And I thought how being early in riding that wave can make you a millionaire or even a billionaire.

I have known, met or spoken to 100s of influencers till date who were early in riding the wave on Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, TikTok etc. I know a large majority of them are worth at least hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you saw a platform taking off, figured it early, and cringed instead of taking advantage, it was your loss and it will continue to be.

Making Use of Mobile Deep Linking As A Marketer

One of the common problems all marketers face especially on Facebook is that your ads always open within the Facebook’s native in-app browser. While that works OK for many use-cases e.g an e-commerce landing page, it is an awful friction in many other cases.

For example, if you’re trying to send users from Facebook to your Instagram page, despite the fact that both apps are owned by one parent company, the page would still load in the in-app Facebook browser instead of the Instagram app. Which means if someone had to follow you, he would need to login to Instagram within the native browser, which is never going to happen.

To solve this you can simply use what is known as deep linking. We use URL Genius to do this.

Here’s a regular Instagram link to my page.

Here’s a deep-link to my Instagram.

If you are reading this blog in Facebook’s or Twitter’s in-app browser, you’ll see that the deep-link opens my page in the Instagram app which is how I’d really want this to happen.

Similarly, if you’re a Youtuber and trying to promote yourself on Facebook, a regular Youtube link on Facebook will never get you subscribers because of the in-app browser friction. A deep link however will solve this problem.

There could be a million use-cases. I hope you guys find this helpful.

The Internet That Is Being Built In Parallel

If you know anything about the crypto industry at all, you may have heard of this phrase before; not your keys, not your coins. If you haven’t heard of it, let me explain it to you. Crypto assets are stored in digital wallets that can be accessed via private keys (a long alphanumeric string). If you lose the key, you lose your coins.

Some people prefer storing their crypto-assets with exchanges for the ease of doing so. But when you store your assets with an exchange and access them using an email address and password, technically you don’t own the private keys to your wallet. The private keys are known only to the exchange and if they have the keys, they own the coins.

There are pros and cons of this design but it ensures that your money is yours. That you can’t be denied or questioned on your right to withdraw or transfer your funds which does happen all the time with traditional financial institutions.

This is a parallel internet that is being built and it isn’t just limited to finance. You could build any kind of app using the same design where there is no central authority dictating what can and can not be done.

The internet that we’re accustomed to was beautiful but I no longer feel that it still is. The power is getting concentrated in the hands of few mega trillion dollar companies and they set the rules for what can and can not be done.

In the good old days of the internet you could host content on your own sites. Now for better deliverability, it is preferred that you serve this content via instant articles on Facebook & AMP on Google. By not doing so, you may be ranked lower or get reduced visibility.

If you want to own an e-commerce store, you could create your own store using woo-commerce (self-hosted) or Shopify (hosted by Shopify). If you’re looking for visibility or discovery, it’s better that you go with Amazon.

However, if you go with Amazon you can only sell what they allow you to sell. There are many things that are legal to sell but can not be sold on Amazon. They will also use your data in knowing what sells best and then launch their own private label brands to beat you at their own game, which by the way they do all the time.

If you decide to setup your own store, as long as it’s on Shopify, they can suspend your store for whatever reason e.g one of our stores was suspended for listing face masks although we hadn’t listed any. This resulted in monetary losses that shouldn’t have happened. But even if we did list the face masks, our store shouldn’t have been suspended as long as we were not doing anything illegal.

The problem with the internet in its present state is that in order for your business to work, you rely on these mega trillion dollar companies despite knowing that they will practice more control than they should be allowed to. You will be stopped and banned from doing activities that are legal to conduct.

As long as your business is on Amazon, Facebook Shop or Shopify, your business’s fate depends on them. It’s not really your business in the true sense. This isn’t any different than “not your keys, not your coins”.

On the contrary, the parallel internet in its present form is slow, expensive and even allows illicit activities, so at the moment it’s much worse than the internet that we’re accustomed to.

These mega corporations including Facebook are already trying to maintain their control on the parallel internet e.g Libra by Facebook.

The parallel internet can solve everything that’s wrong with the present internet but comes with its own set of problems.

One is too centralized that it even prevents legal activities for private gains, the other one is too decentralized to even allow illicit activities.

Facebook Announces “Shops” – Native Shopping Experience on Facebook Family of Apps

Only 2 days ago I wrote this piece about e-commerce being the real fuel of the internet. I feel more confident about it today than I’ve before as Facebook diversifies away from ads and inches closer to the e-commerce space.

When we ran our network of content sites that leveraged Facebook’s influencer marketing, I realized that we were working against the force. That each day, Facebook would do something to cap, limit or control our business or business model in a certain way. I knew that they will take over the business model. So much out-bound traffic making tons of ad-revenue all outside the Facebook platform.

They let us run for a while, for a long while, because their users engaged very well with the content. But eventually they launched instant articles to get a piece of this pie. A native facebook article reading experience where Facebook serves the ads and also takes a cut.

They did the same with the videos. In the early days of Facebook, Youtube videos appeared as embedded content on the platform and not as links. As they started to prioritize their videos on the platform, they started treating Youtube videos as regular links. Eventually they launched in-stream ads, a video monetization program just like one for Youtube.

Now they are doing this for e-commerce. Every day 100s of new D2C brands are launched. Their primary source of customer acquisition has been Facebook. It is estimated that most indie e-commerce brands acquire over 50% of their customers through Facebook advertising. While Facebook already takes a massive chunk of the revenue generated (often 40-50%), having more control by hosting native e-commerce experience on the pages could mean more revenue for the company, better user experience & higher conversion rates.

Just like instant articles, each product would need to be approved by Facebook now when you import the catalog.

How do I perceive this news? troubling. I know this will improve user experience but Facebook already practices more control than I appreciate and the counter-party risks continues to increase.

While you practiced full autonomy over your woo-commerce and Shopify stores, now you’ll be on the mercy of Facebook. In the worst case scenario, which by the way is often the normal case scenario for me, no longer will I only lose ad accounts, I could also lose my “shop”, because of course my “shop” has to adhere to Facebook’s TOS. If the AI, which isn’t very fond of me, constantly throws ban hammers for allegedly violating advertising policies, why wouldn’t it do the same for the shops.

Here’s how Facebook’s Shops look like

3rd Party Social Proof – $100M Brand Pulling “Little Tricks”

I found a fun little thing that the Native deodorants are using to do increase their conversions. If you don’t know what Native is, it’s an organic deodorant D2C brand that recently was acquired by P&G for $100 million dollars in cash.

The gimmick here is that they are trying to build 3rd party social proof by using a page that is named after a person who apparently is a blogger but has no following. The 3rd party page is being used to advertise their brand with a 3rd person copy which gives it a review/testimonial feel.

Social proofs are big part of social media advertising as they can increase you conversion rate by a lot. Ads that have 1M+ views and 10K+ engagement have significantly lower cost per acquisition due to the social proof alone.

After visiting the page I found out the page has no following

And the ad library is burning fuel week after week

34% Of The Global Internet Traffic During The Pandemic Is Just Streaming Videos

I read an interesting and surprising study published by Sandvine.

The trend is obvious that as more and more people stay at home they are consuming more video content than they have done before. What surprised me though was how big the trend is.

34% of the internet consumption is video streaming.

28% is Youtube & Netflix combined with Youtube alone being 16%.

Only 20% of the internet traffic is outside of video streaming, gaming and social networks.

We actually saw this work for our e-commerce stores too. We have started to see abnormally higher number of organic sales from YouTube videos of our ads that we had uploaded months and years ago.

Facebok’s Infamous Ban Hammer & The Best Case Against AI

Facebook’s robots are great at finding customers. You can create a CBO with 10 ad-sets targeting 10 different things, 5 creatives for each of the ad-sets and the robots will start optimizing on the first day to get you purchases before you’ve even spent $50. That’s great, isn’t it?

When Facebook’s AI gets mad at you though, its quite like Skynet from the Terminator. It tries to erase you and it goes to great lengths to do so. Let me explain that one.

What happens when you use a credit card on Facebook that was issued in your name but by a different country than the one you’re residing in? You’re accused of credit card theft of course. Then you go to great lengths to justify it but it doesn’t work. Then after a few days of efforts, you make it work. But doesn’t matter if you’ve made it work even, cause that’s strike # 1 and AI is going to be tougher with you.

What happens next? One of your ads is rejected for “circumventing Facebook’s advertising policies”. You appeal it, and the ad gets approved. Doesn’t matter though, cause that’s strike #2.

And just like that, before you know it, you lose you business manager. Because you as a person was the cause of trouble, you also lose your personal ad account. In addition you lose your ability to advertise on Facebook or add or remove anyone or anything in any business manager.

If this sounds bad, let me tell you what else happens.

Any pages that you have previously advertised on Facebook get penalized too including the one for this blog that you’re reading. It doesn’t matter if the advertising was done months ago, you still get the hammer. The page gets zero reach syndrome.

Oh Facebook, why does it always have to be this way? Am I always going to feel this way about you?

How Facebook Machine Learning Prioritizes Users In Audiences

Facebook’s machine learning is meant to do 1 job. The job is serve your ads in the cheapest price possible.

What this means is that if you run an engagement ad and select a worldwide audience for it, Facebook will get you the engagement from the cheapest geo-location which could often be Philippines or India or another country like that.

Similarly, if you run a conversion ad and put in a large amount of countries in your audience section, Facebook will start prioritizing your traffic towards countries that are likely to convert but also where cheaper impressions can be served. So you’d see a large ad spend being done in Brazil or Mexico or Kuwait etc.

Many times, marketers want to sell their products or services worldwide but also have a preferred or prime geo-location which they want to serve first or primarily or in majority.

If you want to sell your goods or services in US and your goal is to have 50% buyers from US but also have some buyers across the world, you should ideally segment your ad-sets. What this means is you should create a separate ad-set for US and another one for rest of the world.

As a media buyer, it is no longer your job to find buyers. That is something Facebook does for you. Your job is to understand how Facebook’s machine learning works, which does it’s job well, but is far from perfect. As a media buyer you’re supposed to identify its shortcomings, and create your ads in a manner to get the best our of their machine learning.

How Facebook Campaign Objectives Work – A Case Study

It is a matter of common sense for years that Facebook tags groups of people from within an audience for various objectives. What this means is if you run an ad for “cooking” interest that may have 100 million people in the audience, and your campaign objective is engagement, Facebook will only show your ads to users tagged as engagers from within the 100 million audience size.

Similarly, if you run a conversion ad on the same interest of “cooking”, Facebook will show your ad to “purchasers” from within the 100 million audience.

But there’s more to the story.

A friend of mine asked me whether he should select campaign objectives that are cheaper in nature for really warm audience. For example, he wondered if “reach” or “engagement” ads should be run for custom audiences of people who have added the products to cart or initiated check out etc.

I told him that this probably won’t yield better results than the conversion objective since Facebook doesn’t just work by tagging users but takes many other data points in consideration. So I ran a test. And here are the results

Click on the image to see full version
  1. Both the audiences are 100% identical. RT Reach has campaign objective of Reach. RT has campaign objective of Conversion.
  2. The CPM of reach objective is 1/10th. It was 10 times cheaper to run the reach ads on my warm audience.
  3. Despite the warm audience, CTR was 1/3rd for reach ads.
  4. Despite lower CTR, more clicks were generated for reach ads. (10 times more impressions and 1/3rd CTR = 3 times more clicks)
  5. Despite more clicks and cheaper CPC (0.11 for reach & 0.28 for conversion), cost per ATC, cost per IC, cost per Purchase was much higher for reach ads.
  6. Cost per purchase for reach ads was nearly 2.5x of cost per purchase of conversion ads.
  7. Reach ads saw ROAS of 0.76 while conversion ads saw ROAS of 2.22

Conclusion

While Facebook could be taking thousands of data points in consideration, I want to highlight the basis of why the reach ads underperformed.

Campaign objective doesn’t just tag users, but also decides whether your ads will appear early in the newsfeed or down below capturing higher attention vs lower attention of the same warm users.

It may also take into account the time of the day for when each individual purchaser makes a purchase. By running reach as campaign objective you’re reaching your “purchasers” at a time when they won’t initiate a purchase.

The conversion objective could take individual placements and platforms in account for each individual user etc.

In summary, the campaign objectives do not just work by “tagging” various groups within the audience but also take into consideration many other data points.