Viya (left), one of China's top e-commerce livestreamers, and her assistants promote products via livestreaming platforms in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. [Photo by Chen Zhongqiu/For China Daily]
Pandemic only added fuel to the fire for fast-growing online marketing
China's emerging livestreaming e-commerce industry has witnessed explosive growth amid the COVID-19 pandemic, thus creating new growth opportunities for a wide range of businesses and injecting new impetus into the economy, said industry experts.
They said livestreaming has become a key means for brands to gain awareness and boost sales, and for smaller operators such as farmers to have better access to consumers, especially during the pandemic period when many people are still stuck at home.
Cao Lei, director of the E-Commerce Research Center at the Internet Economy Institute, said that while most e-commerce platforms have now hit bottlenecks in finding new customers, livestreaming provides an important channel for them to tap into large demographics living in fourth and fifth-tier cities as well as rural areas.
"What's more, livestreaming allows hosts to answer call-in questions from digital audiences in real time, which will significantly enhance shopping experiences and attract more netizens to shop online," Cao said.
Just as China stepping ahead of the world in e-commerce, it is doing the same in terms of livestreaming. The number of people likely to watch livestreaming e-commerce events is set to hit 388 million in 2020, according to a report from the China Internet Network Information Center. The number was 265 million as of March 2020.
The typical livestreaming e-commerce session involves celebrities promoting and selling goods while answering questions from an online audience, with everything taking place in real time via devices such as smartphones. Livestreaming is increasingly gaining popularity as a new online shopping platform among Chinese netizens, creating a huge market worth more than 970 billion yuan ($149.9 billion) in 2020, said the Internet Economy Institute.
E-commerce giant Alibaba's Taobao Live has taken the lion's share of livestreaming, as 68.5 percent of consumers use the service, according to a survey conducted by the China Consumers Association. Douyin and Kuaishou have taken second and third spots, respectively. Other large Chinese internet and e-commerce players like JD.com have also thrown their hats into the ring.
In fact, Taobao Live generated more than 400 billion yuan in gross merchandise volume last year alone, up from over 200 billion yuan GMV in 2019, displaying the huge growth potential of the new frontier of livestreaming commerce that combines social networks and e-commerce.
Today, top Chinese livestream influencers have become major online celebrities. Viya, one of China's top e-commerce livestreamers, sold over 1.1 billion yuan worth of merchandise on Nov 10 last year, earning herself 450,000 new fans into the bargain.
"The coronavirus pandemic in fact propelled people to shop online and watch livestreaming to seek interactive and immersive experiences," said Viya, whose name is a play on the phrase "slightly hoarse".
Viya added that: "Lots of businesses have realized the importance of livestreaming e-commerce. Looking forward, our team will ramp up efforts to combine both online and offline businesses, such as selling movie tickets via livestreaming channels and cooperating with fast food restaurants."
She said livestreaming e-commerce will help boost the development of industrial chains, including logistics and manufacturing factories.
For Viya, livestreaming e-commerce is a key channel for small brands and farmers to reach consumers, helping a wide range of businesses survive the pandemic.
"In the future, I will continue to recommend good merchandise such as high-quality agricultural products. Having a better understanding of the audience, we can further improve products and services to meet consumers' specific needs and (then boost sales)."
However, with the rapid development of livestreaming e-commerce, new problems are also popping up, such as illegal sales of counterfeit goods.
Authorities recently unveiled a trial guideline, effective from May 25, to regulate livestreaming in the booming e-commerce sector.
The new measures, jointly released on April 23 by the Cyberspace Administration of China and six other government departments, aim to protect the rights and interests of consumers and minors and tackle problems including false advertising and sales of counterfeit and substandard goods.
Livestreaming platforms are required to handle complaints from consumers in a timely manner and provide necessary evidence when disputes occur, it said.
"Looking forward, livestreaming platforms need to make active moves to maintain normal market order and contribute to the healthy development of the whole industry," said Fang Yizhi, an assistant analyst at the E-Commerce Research Center at the Internet Economy Institute.