Putting live video streaming in the hands of anyone with a smartphone, like Periscope did, ushered in a new era for mobile apps. But it also quickly proved that most live video is inherently boring.
HQ Trivia made live streaming far more engaging by putting three simple buttons on the screen and letting players interact in real time. And now Gravy, a live shopping game show, is taking the interactivity element in a new direction by letting a large group of viewers shop and play a game at the same time. It’s pretty addictive, too.
“We believe apps like HQ Trivia have broken open a completely new form of mobile entertainment that is going to be huge,” says Gravy cofounder Brian Wiegand. “We love HQ’s simple format of daily, live-hosted trivia. Gravy uses live show elements, but instead of trivia we are gamifying the shopping experience.”
Here’s how the app works: For each daily game airing at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT, there’s one product being sold. The product is unveiled and then viewers have 60 seconds to guess what percentage of the original price the item will sell for when the sale finishes–with Price is Right-like rules, so don’t go over.
The twist is that the quantity of the product being sold is hidden. You don’t know whether there’s one, nine, or 16 of them available. You want to wait as long as possible to get the best deal, because the discount grows as the show continues. But you can’t wait too long or it’ll sell out.
So far, Gravy has sold products like the iPhone X, AirPods, Adidas shoes, an electric skateboard, a Weber BBQ grill, Oculus Go, North Face jacket, and similar “hot” items. Generally speaking, they’re gear that’s continually in demand.
Although it can be a little complicated to quickly explain the rules to the uninitiated, the experience of live shopping with hundreds of people watching is compelling. Wiegand says that Gravy averages a 40%+ retention rate, which he says is three to four times higher than industry averages. He also says that Gravy is delivering “close to 10 minutes of focused attention to the brand story and product.”
When HQ finally introduced partners and promotion for Nike and the movie Ready Player One movie, its business model became clear. Live streaming has the benefits of people deeply engaged and waiting to take action, which makes it attractive to companies.
Gravy wants to be a shopping entertainment platform for the millennial and Gen-Z generations. Instead of brands launching new products with traditional advertising, Gravy‘s creators hope, they’ll put them on the app to reach a wide swath of young people adept at ignoring ads.
“We really see Gravy as the future of game shows, aka the game show that the Instagram era hasn’t had yet,” says Wiegand.
The focus on youth is likely why Gravy also includes a charity aspect–donating a portion of the money a user spends during a show to a charity that each user selects.
Mobile shopping isn’t languishing, but live commerce still hasn’t had its HQ moment. Amazon tried live video shopping with a show called Style Code Live for almost a year before shutting it down in 2017. The more people you get watching, the harder it becomes to make the experience active rather than passive.
The trick seems to be that you need a layer of engagement on top of the live video. With HQ Trivia, it’s those three buttons; with Gravy, it’s the guessing and buying.
Gravy launched on iPhone first, but the company confirms that it will be bring the experience to Android users in a few weeks. It also plans to add guest hosts to its mix, which might be a way to bring in some faces that are already familiar to the young audience it’s courting.
It’s a tall order to disrupt mobile commerce and mobile ads all at once. But people have always liked getting a product they want at a discount—and if they can have fun while doing it, all the better.