SINGAPORE — While many of his peers are sleeping, gaming or studying at 2am on a weekday night, 18-year-old Sachin Nagappan is doing a TikTok livestream.
A ‘PARASOCIAL’ RELATIONSHIP
The connection between a livestream host and viewers is an example of a “parasocial” relationship, a one-sided relationship formed with a media persona, said Assistant Professor Andrew Yee of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences department at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
While similar to the relationship between celebrities and their fans, parasocial relationships on social media can be even more intimate and intense.
Watching livestreams via mobile phones can also foster a closer sense of connection between hosts and their audience, which may increase the likelihood of purchases due to the perceived endorsement from a friend, Assistant Prof Yee added.
“The mobile phone is a very personal device. We use it in very intimate places like on the bed, or even in the toilet,” he said.
“This can enhance that feeling of intimacy and connection in a very subconscious way.”
People should thus be self-aware of how they are being affected by the parasocial relationship formed, and if they are spending excessively or starting to form an unhealthy obsession with a persona, Assistant Prof Yee added.
While TikTok appeals to a younger demographic, even household products sell well as the charisma of the seller can be even more important than the product itself, said Dr Tracy Loh, a senior lecturer of communication management at the Singapore Management University.
Things that are visually appealing thrive on such platforms, as livestreamers are able to compensate for a viewer’s inability to touch or feel a product by showing it at different angles, she added.
THE SCIENCE OF SELLING ON TIKTOK
This has been true for Ms Aqilah Adnan, the 25-year-old founder of Benew, a brand that sells body scrubs in ball form, lip scrubs and scented moisturisers.
During her livestreams, which have gone for as long as five hours, she typically packs orders, talks about the range of the body scrubs offered and also does product demonstrations.
As viewers are not able to smell her products, Ms Aqilah tries to give as detailed a description of the scents as possible on the livestreams.
Some viewers tune in simply because they find it relaxing, and have told her that watching her pack orders has brought them autonomous sensory meridian response, a tingling sensation some people experience in response to certain sounds or visuals.
And some people are enticed by being able to watch their purchases being prepared in real time, said Ms Grace Lim from Emporal, while customers can also take inspiration from what other people have bought.
Businesses that do sales on TikTok livestreams said that what draws viewers are not only their products, but the personality of the livestream hosts.
“Once they like you, just like with YouTube, if you like somebody you will watch them even though you’re not buying anything. We have customers who say, ‘Oh, I like to watch the way you talk’,” said Ms Ramya from SGBestDeal.
THE FUTURE OF COMMERCE?
Experts believe that livestream sales are here to stay.
A study by TikTok and Boston Consulting Group released August last year found that the market value of “shoppertainment” – the blending of e-commerce and entertainment – was expected to rise to more than US$1 trillion (S$1.4 trillion) by 2025 for the Asia Pacific region.
Combining social media and e-commerce is very intuitive, as it makes the shopping experience convenient while offering information and entertainment, said Dr Wong King Yin, a senior lecturer in marketing at the Nanyang Technological University.
As compared to ordering something online which is minimally interactive, a livestream offers an immediacy and directness that is just like interacting with a brick-and-mortar store owner, she added.
There is also a community of thousands who can educate you on the product, in the comfort of your home, said Dr Wong.
Experts also pointed to the lucrative market of livestream sales in China, where livestreaming is a profession and there are academies teaching topics such as how to banter with an audience and project one’s personality.
“A couple of years ago, kids might have said, ‘I want to be a YouTuber’. Now kids are saying, ‘I want to be a livestreamer’,” said Dr Loh.