Consumer Insights

Why Playing Contextual Commerce Catch-Up Pays Off

Kohl's Chewbacca Masks Sells

Andy Warhol predicted that, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” However, livestreaming video has blown that time frame out of the water. Whether it’s brands hungry for attention or just the lay consumer uploading the ennui of their lives, any moment, for seemingly any reason, can blow up into a worldwide phenomenon within the day.

Look no further than what has undoubtedly been the most popular video on the Internet over the weekend — a four-minute, dashcam-shot May 19 Facebook Live video of Texas woman Candace Payne unboxing and giddily wearing a talking Chewbacca mask purchased from Kohl’s. Picking apart why viral videos become so still eludes scholars and philosophers alike, but the metrics speak for themselves. After just five days, Payne’s Star Wars geek-out has racked up just short of 142 million views and 3.2 million shares, plus the millions more on third-party accounts across the Web.

Of course, one excitable Star Wars fan uploading a video of her Chewbacca-fied self isn’t retailers’ ideal conception of contextual commerce, but as the landscape stands now, it might be what they should aim for.

Case in point: Since Payne’s video went live, Kohl’s has completely sold out of the talking Chewbacca masks on its online store. That’s not the only shockwave caused by the most watched Facebook Live video in the new platform’s short history, though. A spokesperson from Toys”R”Us confirmed that it had also received a massive surge in both traffic and sales for Chewbacca masks over the weekend, and in what might be the universal sign of a viral retail trend gaining steam, third-party resellers on eBay and Amazon have already jacked up their prices for the Chewbacca mask to several hundred dollars over its $30 price tag.

That one Star Wars fan gets excited over a product isn’t particularly newsworthy, but that her excitement can incite a widespread retail firestorm that spreads across brands, marketplaces and platforms — and all instigated by a livestream video platform that facilitates rapid and ostensibly authentic reactions — well, that is a story worth noting, if only because most livestreamed content created by brands themselves, so far, have fallen flat in the realm of real-world dollars.

And therein lies the beauty of Payne’s video. The enthusiasm of a true fan has inspired similar spending devotion in others, and try as they might, brands are better off steering clear of trying to convey that kind of authenticity, especially as consumers become more fluent in the language of livestreaming than retailers can keep pace with.

“People can appreciate artistic images coming from brands, especially on Instagram,” Toni Box, senior director of social media and content at PM Digital, told Retail Dive. “But they definitely appreciate real-time imagery over the staged images that can be stodgy. There’s something about that off-the-cuff imagery — it’s authentic, and that’s becoming more important.”

It should go without saying that any retailer attempting to “recreate” the magic of Payne’s video should stop what they’re doing right now, but that could be a hard pill to swallow for brands that have thrown themselves headlong into the world of contextual commerce. However, if this budding field emphasizes the need to predict, anticipate and sometimes create the conditions under which shoppers are most likely to buy, the ease with which Payne’s video has sparked a tsunami of sales should clue retailers into another possibility. It might be better to react to customer-created (and not influencer-created) content and trends than risk muddying up the waters of goodwill by ham-fisted agency attempts at sparking a fire.

Though Kohl’s had no choice but to react in this situation, the company did try to capitalize on the burgeoning fame its talking Chewbacca masks were enjoying by presenting Payne’s family with a cornucopia of non-mask Star Wars toys, as well as about $2,500 in Kohl’s gift cards. It’s not a move that’s going to get other shoppers sprinting to their nearest strip malls with cash in hand, but it is a safe move in an age where brands haven’t quite nailed the particulars of social and contextual commerce.

Of course, the retailers that can peer into their customers’ minds would excel in those fields, but until that ideal becomes a reality, reacting to these trends — be it through inventory refreshing, targeted (and constrained) social media activity or just a bundle of highly visible gifted swag — is fast becoming the more critical talent of the here and now.

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