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Antiquing Goes Digital: Virtual Shopping for Collectibles

Someone making a purchase while on their phone

Collecting memorabilia and antiques has always been a widely popular activity for many. While some use this as a way to make some income, the majority simply pursue it as a hobby. By collecting their favorite items or buying a nostalgic antique, they reap some specific benefits. For some, shopping for collectibles is pure entertainment. Others like collecting because it reminds them of good times and lost family members. Regardless of the motivation, shopping for collectibles will always be a thing. So, it’s no wonder that we’re now seeing virtual online marketplaces appear unique to this activity.

With the pandemic, the number of people embracing online shopping has skyrocketed. With consumers stuck at home, online purchases were not only safer but also increasingly convenient. Out of this has emerged a new trend: livestream shopping. This new sales strategy combined real-time video and social media interaction to create a more profound shopping experience. Numerous companies are beginning to appreciate the advantages of this intriguing sales approach. And one of the latest specifically tailors to those who love shopping for collectibles. By understanding the psych behind these collectors, it’s pretty clear why such a platform is likely to be incredibly successful.

“We built Whatnot not just to enable transactions, but to capture the fun of the in-person experience, so our communities can connect in real-time and geek out with their favorite sellers.” – Logan Head, Co-founder and CTO, Whatnot

Livestream Shopping and Collectibles

Over the last year, livestream shopping platforms have received increasing amounts of attention. In China, this now represents nearly a tenth of all retail purchases and 37 percent of all online sales. In essence, when thinking of livestream shopping, think QVC or HSN in real-time social media. But instead of having celebrities showcase products on TV, you have social media influencers involved. Likewise, these platforms allow greater interaction with consumers, not only with sellers but with other buyers as well. All of these features explain the increased popularity of this sales approach.

Understanding this, it’s not surprising that collectors might find livestream shopping attractive. In essence, these online marketplaces provide community and connect people of similar mindsets. Those shopping for collectables can interact with others who share their passions over the Internet. They can also engage sellers as if they were attending a live antique show or enthusiast convention. (Read more about the increasing prominence of virtual conventions in this Bold Business story.) Not only can they have their questions answered instantly, but they receive strong entertainment value as well. For companies that can create a livestream shopping platform that optimizes these features, success is likely inevitable.

“…we found it painful to use some of the existing big players, like eBay. We saw that they had not been innovated on, and there was an opportunity to build an amazing social commerce experience focused on collectibles and sports cards.” – Grant LaFontaine, Co-founder, Whatnot

Livestream Shopping Platforms

Outside of platforms designed for those shopping for collectibles, several livestream shopping apps exist. The most popular one in China is currently ShopShop, which has a bulk of current online, live shopping experiences. Talkshop Live is another platform that now has roughly 3,000 small businesses using its app to facilitate sales through video. Others include Klarna based out of Sweden as well as emerging platforms from Facebook and Amazon. Even Walmart recently partnered with TikTok to create its own livestream shopping experience for its customers. Reportedly, Walmart received 7 times more views than expected and increased its TikTok followership by 25 percent.

Interestingly, however, such a platform had previously not been developed for those shopping for collectibles. But now, Whatnot looks to cash in on its livestream shopping apps geared specifically toward such consumers. The Los Angeles start-up launched in 2019 and has received nearly $25 million in venture capital funding. It currently has 10 categories of collectibles like Pokémon cards and sports memorabilia. But it soon plans to have hundreds. What makes Whatnot unique is the way it engages those who love shopping for collectibles. Live shows, community forums, and much-anticipated purchase reveals all add to the site’s entertainment value. These features are a big reason many see the company as being highly successful in this niche market.

“Many companies are trying to duplicate the success of livestream shopping in the U.S., but while compelling platforms have been built, many have fallen short when it comes to fostering the community that keeps users engaged and coming back again and again.” – Connie Chan, General Partner, Andreessen

The Motivations Behind Shopping for Collectibles

In essence, there is a psychology behind antique and memorabilia collecting. Naturally, some items hold sentimental value and foster a sense of nostalgia. These nostalgic feelings provide us with a sense of belonging to something more than ourselves. This something might be family, a generation, or even a specific community. But in each case, those shopping for collectibles enjoy the connections that items provide to others, past or present. Livestream shopping apps like Whatnot appreciate this, and they have designed their platform accordingly.

A typical antique store, cluttered to heck
Shopping for collectibles used to mean perusing endless stores – now it means livestream shopping.

At the same time, individuals shopping for collectibles naturally purchase items because they believe they have value. Today, we’re even seeing this in unusual areas that include digital cryptocurrencies and even non-fungible tokens. (What are non-fungible tokens? A new kind of asset class that you can read about in this Bold Business story.) With this in mind, livestream shopping platforms that let collectors investigate value in greater detail will certainly be appealing. The increase in real-time interactions between sellers and other buyers align well with this need. Thus, this is another reason those shopping for collectibles are finding apps like Whatnot attractive.

A Rapid Evolution in Marketplaces

In decades past, door-to-door salespeople gained an advantage in making sales by better engaging consumers. This was followed by radio advertising, television programs like QVC, and sales conventions. In recent times, online marketplaces like eBay and others have emerged, with COVID serving as a catalyst for adoption. But now, it appears livestream shopping leveraging the features of social media engagement is the latest development. Businesses selling all types of products are pursuing these platforms because they see this as the way of the future. It’s therefore not surprising at all that those selling collectibles will soon be doing the same.


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