At the worst moment of the pandemic in China, the largest skin care brand Forest Cabin closed more than half of its 300 stores nationwide. With the collapse of sales, the founder Sun Laichun he decided it was time to reach his customers more directly.
"We knew it was time to focus on an online strategy to survive"he said. But the company hasn't launched online campaigns or promised deep discounts. He started training hundreds of vendors to start hosting live video streams where viewers could get skin care tips and purchase products directly online. In just one month sales of Forest Cabin are increased by 20% compared to a year earlierdespite the drop in sales in physical stores.
These days, customers return to malls and stores as we emerge (slowly and with difficulty) from the lockdown. But so many retailers in the region have embraced live streaming that it has kicked off a new boom of "Shoppertainment": retailers also interact with distant customers in real time.
Some of China's largest e-commerce companies are betting big on live. The platform Taobao Live (by Alibaba) posted an increase of over seven times in business customers in February, while live sessions by Pinduoduo they grew fivefold from February to March. Overall, “live” e-commerce revenue will double this year to 961 billion yuan (134 billion euros), according to iiMedia Research.
Influencer on the breach
Live streaming has also created a new profitable niche for the marketing of web stars and influencers. Now they collect large commissions for live shows that attract more viewers. Some Chinese retailers host their streams. Others hire influencers directly (with their entire "package" of fans). Viya Huang e Li Jiaqifor example, they are full-time influencers with tens of millions of followers, and boast sales of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Both go live for about four hours, and five to six nights each week. Millions of viewers log in to get their tips on skincare, snacks and home products.
On a recent evening, Huang hit 20 million people when he started eating spicy duck neck (a Chinese specialty) to promote a food brand. In seconds, viewers ordered 70.000 packs. In four hours, Huang had sold everything from sugar-free biscuits to sanitary napkins, to trainers. “Sold out”, TheGiornalisti would sing.
For viewers, the fast pace of live streams provides a constant sense of urgency, the perception that they would lose a deal if they didn't act quickly.
"It's really exciting to watch," said Coco Lu, an official from Chongqing, a city about 600 kilometers from Wuhan. "The characters are very persuasive and there are freebies, plus the offers are only available for a very short period of time."
Adam An, who works in Hangzhou marketing, finds them a relaxing form of petty therapy. Watch a live stream "It's almost like a friend is chatting with me, recommending great products to buy"he said.
Livestream sales are a godsend for small business owners like Dou Ma, which sells discounted clothing, dresses for around 6 euros, from the comfort of his home in the city of Kunming. After putting her two kids to bed, she goes online and broadcasts from her living room for about three hours.
All he needed to get started is his cell phone. Its first streams in late March attracted fewer than 20 viewers a night, but recently more than 100 have begun to be connected. Dou broadcasts at a less frantic pace, warmly welcoming all viewers who join and thanking them for their support. It has its own style.
"It's okay if you don't buy anything today, you can also chat with me and that's it, if you want", he said recently, while holding a winter coat at a price of only 59,90 yuan (€ 7,50) including shipping.
When a viewer asks for a dress's measurements via live commentary, Dou takes out his measuring tape and shows it all. For the rest he talks about everything, from advice "for the children" to the holidays he has to give up. "Due to this pandemic, live streaming has become a good option"he said. "It's no longer practical for newcomers like me to open an offline shop."
Live streaming between marketing and communication
The trend could also suggest alternatives for struggling retailers in the US and Europe, given the distrust of crowded spaces that will last quite a while. More than anything else, however, we are facing a new-old form of communication.