Littlewoods launched the latest installment of its popular Facebook TV Show Littlewoods Live last week which had nearly 5,000 viewers tuning in. Gemma Goldfingle speaks to one of its charismatic hosts Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to find out how to the format works and why using social media in retail is crucial in the digital age.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen was involved in a retail first earlier this year when he hosted the first interactive TV show on Facebook, Littlewoods Live.  The online retailer immediately branded it a success with over 4,000 viewers watching the show.

This inevitably led to last week’s Christmas special which was even more successful with nearly 5,000 live streams achieving a Facebook reach of 3.9m people.

“It’s terribly exciting,” exclaims the flamboyant designer. “The first one was as much fun as sex and just as life-changing. When we came off air, well after half a bottle of chardonnay, they first thing I said was darlings, when are we going to do it again.”

Social media is undoubtedly an important tool for retailers to connect with today’s customer, however, it is not an easy thing to master.

Facebook, along with other social networks, is very personal to users so it is tricky business to communicate with customers in a forum which seems private. Do customers really want to be sold to in their down time?

Some retailers such as Gap and Nordstrom have even closed down their transactional Facebook stores unable to make it work.

However, Littlewoods seems to have found the winning formula by using the platform to entertain and inspire customers rather than relentlessly sell to them.

Littlewoods Live is more akin to watching daytime TV, than QVC. The Christmas special included festive room makeovers and tips to get the home ready for yuletide.

“It’s to help when your mother- in-law comes round and your spare room looks like stig of the dump,” says the enthusiastic host.

The show also features a live phone-in, competitions and instant messaging. Ad breaks give the retailer the opportunity to promote the products.

Llewelyn-Bowen says: “Littlewoods are very clever. Part of the romance of using things like Facebook is that it’s like going to your shoppers’ home and having a cup of tea with them, or in my case a very large G&T.”

The designer, who has gone on to produce Littlewoods’ most successful homewares collection in its 80 year history, says the show offers inspiration for the customer.

He says: “Going shopping used to be entertaining.  Most people would take the time to go to Harrods but no high street retailers make it anything other than a shopping experience . Littlewoods Live takes puts personality into shopping. We’re peddling a romance for the electronic age.”

The format clearly engages consumers as nearly 1,700 comments or questions were posted during the Christmas show, up 55% on the first show.

“We’re giving inspiration and fast tracking the shopper to a conversation with the person who created the collection. The idea that someone can pick up the telephone and have their question answered, shows how immediate it is,” he says.

Llewelyn-Bowen is convinced the format works and says it could be part of the new retail landscape.

Only time will tell if his predictions are true but perhaps tuning into the Christmas Littlewoods Live show can become a yuletide tradition.