Sales people: This is how to shift $3bn of product in 12 hours

By Elles Houweling

Ecommerce giant Alibaba has begun the lead up to its annual “Singles Day” Cyber Monday-like shopping extravaganza in China, and the combined livestreaming sales efforts of just two celebrity streamers raised 18.9bn yuan (US$3bn) worth of revenue within 12 hours. According to Taobao, one of Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms, a total of 488 million people watched the broadcasts of the two influencers, causing the app to crash for a brief period of time.

On Wednesday, the Hangzhou-based firm started the pre-sale period for its Double Eleven or Singles’ Day shopping festival, officially held on November 11. The annual event has become China’s most important retail day, with platforms such as Taobao and Tmall offering steep discounts and exclusive deals.

In recent years, Chinese ecommerce turnover has increasingly been driven by celebrity live broadcasts, whereby influencers promote items via interactive livestreaming chats.

Austin Li Jiaqi, China’s number one celebrity live-streamer, known as the Lipstick King, held a 12-hour streaming session, during which he generated a total of 10.7bn yuan (US$1.67bn) in sales revenue for Taobao. On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, Li thanked his viewers:

“Usually, 20 million people watch our show every day, today it’s 250 million. Hey girls, where did you all suddenly come from? Thank you for your support and come by again to play.”

The runner-up in this year’s celebrity ecommerce livestreaming craze was Viya, the stage name of influencer Huang Wei, who raised 8.3bn yuan (US$1.3bn).

Li thanked his fans on Weibo

According to Chinese media, Li promoted 439 products during his first live-streaming effort of the festival, compared to 126 last year. Beauty brands made up 70% of the products, including L’Oréal, Shiseido, Estee Lauder and Guerlain.

On the same day, L’Oréal reported an estimated gross merchandise value (GMV) of 726m yuan (US$114m), resulting directly from Li’s live broadcast. Shiseido and Estee Lauder’s GMV reportedly reached 508m yuan (US$79m) and 368m yuan (US$58m), respectively.

The success of live-streaming

Building on the concept of social shopping – that is merging online shopping with social media – Chinese ecommerce firms have seen a growth in the success of live-streaming, a trend that is also emerging in the West.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that with the success of livestream ecommerce in China, brands in the West will start to experiment more with celebrity live-streaming, adapting it for the Western consumer. Influencer marketing is now a mainstream form of online marketing, and celebrity live-streaming seems like a natural next step,” says Luke Gowland, analyst at GlobalData and ecommerce specialist.

In a way, these livestreams are similar to product videos in that they show product details up close. However, the one main difference is that live streams are interactive. This makes the process a highly efficient and entertaining way to learn about new products and ask questions.

It is comparable to walking into a physical store, as the host may greet you, ask what you are looking for and provide recommendations. Though users can’t speak to the host directly, they can send text messages, which show up in the chat history for everyone in the room.

“WeChat’s super-app model is the envy of Western social media companies. Western companies are attempting to mirror the super-app model and incorporate ecommerce, payments and cryptocurrencies into their own ecosystems to generate revenue sources other than advertising,” explains Gowland.

Platforms jumping onto the live-streaming bandwagon are also strategically applying the influencer economy, known in Chinese as the wanghong economy. Celebrities such as Austin Li and Viya have made their name by trying on clothes and cosmetics and selling them online.

This year, the combined efforts of the duo surpassed the annual sales of more than 4,000 listed companies, according to Wind statistics. In 2020, 4,124 listed companies had revenues of less than US$2.9bn.

Verdict has recently explained how live-streaming ecommerce might soon take over in western markets, probably with TikTok leading the way.

All the Single Shoppers

Alibaba launched the run up to the annual Singles’ Day shopping event on Wednesday evening. Shortly after, customers noticed that the Taobao platform was down momentarily. The ecommerce website responded on its Weibo account, saying that “due to customers’ enthusiasm”, the platform collapsed for nearly 30 minutes following the event’s kick-off.

The ecommerce festival aims to fend off fierce domestic competition from JD.com, the online retail group behind delivery service Meituan and grocery service Pinduoduo, and the live-streaming ecommerce prowess of ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) and Kuaishou.

First introduced in 2009, the event has now become the world largest shopping day, having surpassed the sales revenue for Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Last year, Alibaba’s Tmall reported a turnover of 498.2bn yuan ($US77.9bn), a 26% increase from the previous year. This year’s event is expected to outperform last year’s, with a record 290,000 brands participating and more than 14 million discount deals.