On a weekday afternoon in late August, 45-year-old Sheri Hensley is streaming live from Olive Branch, Miss., to more than 800 fans watching from her boutique’s Facebook page and mobile app.
"Hi y'all," Hensley says.
Hensley is wearing a leopard-print shirt, but that quickly changes as she and two 20-something employees of her Pink Coconut Boutique model 50 items over two hours. Viewers, who already supplied credit card info, purchase with a Facebook comment or buy buttons in the app — all without leaving the live video.
They generate about $25,000 in sales. That’s a good haul, but they’ve done better. During one show, revenue hit almost five times that at a pace of $1,000 a minute. Hensley and her team, which includes her husband, Mic, stream up to three times a day using software from CommentSold. The boutique, which also has a physical store, conducted live selling before COVID-19, but it’s since exploded and now generates about 90% of revenue.
“We actually can do more in one day on live than in-store in two or three weeks,” Hensley said. The potential “is unlimited.”
The Hensleys are part of a jump in the use of livestreams to sell goods since COVID-19 pushed more people to embrace online shopping. Live selling generated $60 billion in global sales in 2019 — with just a sliver in the U.S. — and should almost double this year, according to Coresight Research. For Pink Coconut, it’s driven a doubling of sales to more than $1 million a month. Demand is so high that the company wants to hire 15 more people, which would boost its employee count by a third.
Hensley and her fellow presenters, Allie Eklund and Alyssa Shackelford, are pitching tops, jeans and baseball caps from a carpeted studio at the company's warehouse. While one stands in front of a ring light and the mobile phone streaming the video live to Facebook and the app, the others respond to on-screen comments in a flowing conversation that veers from "You could size down, unless your arms are a trouble area" to the arrival of Hurricane Laura.
On other streams, the Hensleys, who’ve been together for nearly three decades and ran tanning salons before opening the Pink Coconut store in 2012, freely intersperse their personal lives — including having a pet chicken on as a guest.
“It’s kind of created a reality show,” Hensley said. “We hear that a lot.”
It’s quirky, but Pink Coconut’s broadcasts get at the promise of streaming as a sales platform that could revolutionize online shopping. Although e-commerce dominates at being efficient if you know what you want, it’s not good at human connection or product discovery. That’s still best achieved in a physical store with salespeople. But live selling events — already a force in China and other parts of the world — can bridge that gap.