Chinese shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined the “shop on the couch” and why it is so popular

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Austin Li Jiaqi

On “Black Friday” all the shopaholics of the world were preparing to storm the shops, but they, in turn, were actively attracted by tempting advertisements and promises of incredible discounts. And according to the popular expression that is attributed to the entrepreneur of the second half of the 19th century Ludwig Metzel, advertising is the engine of commerce. In the first half of the 21st century, this formula for success can be slightly tweaked – not just advertising, but advertising from bloggers. This is especially noticeable in the example of China, where the heroes of social networks accelerate brand sales to billions in turnover in a matter of hours. The greatest excitement happens just on the days of large-scale sales. In our article, we understand this phenomenon and recall the most memorable cases when bloggers forced their subscribers to sweep goods off the shelves.

November is a real month of sales: it all starts with Shopping Day, which is celebrated on November 11, and ends with “Black Friday”. The first holiday came to us just from Asia – it began in 2009, when the Chinese company Alibaba Group first organized a grand sale in its online stores, including the popular AliExpress store. The second tradition, on the contrary, came from the West and has a longer history. It is associated with Thanksgiving in the United States (it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November), and the custom of organizing sales immediately after the holiday was established in the 19th century (the term “Black Friday” itself appeared in 1966). Both traditions eventually spread throughout the world.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

However, in China today, brands do not even have to wait for these fixed dates to generate increased demand. It is enough for some successful blogger to set up a stream during which they test or show certain products. The mechanics of this format are quite simple and resemble the old “Store on the Sofa” programs – only from the TV everything was transferred to the Internet. And online commerce related to streams is one of the main sales channels in China today. In a 2020 survey, two-thirds of Chinese consumers said they bought goods during these live broadcasts. The total turnover of such sales in 2020 in China is estimated at $ 171 billion, according to McKinsey Digital.

This market is constantly growing, so many Western brands also began to test this distribution channel, but in order to avoid mistakes, they turn to those who have already established themselves as masters of online sales – popular Chinese bloggers who specialize in shopping streams. And advisers are certainly needed, because in China all the usual Western social networks are prohibited – all activity is focused on local WeChat platforms (an application supporting mobile payments for sending text and voice messages, videos and photos; analogous to WhatsApp) and Weibo (a microblogging service, analog Twitter), and users search for products on Taobao (analogous to Amazon).

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Due to the high engagement of subscribers (live communication with a blogger, chats, sometimes bloggers play invitations to streams or brand events among their fans), the effectiveness of such a promotion is much higher and is not perceived by consumers as ordinary advertising, in which confidence is declining. It should be noted that not all products on such streams are contractual, but brands certainly use this method of advertising and often even create collaborations with bloggers (see examples below).

Another case when a blogger successfully increased sales of various brands happened quite recently. At the end of October this year, 28-year-old Chinese blogger Austin Li Jiaqi, known online as the King of Lipstick (i.e. the king of lipstick), had a 12-hour stream, during which he sold beauty products worth $ 1.7 billion in direct broadcast through the Taobao app. The broadcast was watched by about 250 million people.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Austin Li Jiaqi

For Austin, this was far from the first experience, but the result was perhaps the most impressive of all. In comparison, the blogger sold $ 145 million worth of merchandise on Shopping Day two years earlier. He also once sold 15,000 lipsticks in just five minutes!

Last year, as the coronavirus outbreak hit China's economy hard, several companies, including food company Danshenliang, turned to Li to help restore sales in the first quarter.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Popularity came to him in 2017, when, using the streaming service on the Taobao app, Lee began to broadcast live, in which he talked about his favorite beauty products. He was not a complete newbie – Lee had honed his sales skills while working as a salesman at L'Oréal in Nanchang.

The blogger's trick was that he always put lipstick on his lips, and not on his hand, as many do. So he, according to him, wanted to show the real color of the lipstick and how it lays down. He once tested 380 different lipsticks on a seven-hour live broadcast. The blogger is also inventive in the description of goods: for example, he uses not just the names of shades familiar to everyone, but speaks very poetically, using expressions such as “the color that made my heart freeze” or “the color as delicate as water.”

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Lee's charisma and honesty (the blogger honestly expresses his opinion and often criticizes luxury brands, which are usually praised) have brought him a huge fan base among girls and women in China who trust his opinion and are ready to follow all the advice. Last year, Lee's personal fortune was estimated at $ 5 million.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Another influential Chinese blogger is Tao Liang, 29, also known as Mr. Bag (“Mister Bag”). The nickname, of course, did not arise from scratch – Tao is a big fan of luxury bags and, perhaps, the most authoritative expert in this area among bloggers. He began his career in 2011, and in 2017 was already one of the most influential bloggers in China, which, of course, attracted the attention of global brands.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Tao Liang with a bag from his collaboration with Tod's

In six minutes, thanks to Tao Liang's advertising, Tod's sold half a million dollars worth of handbags. At the same time, Liang, together with Givenchy, created a capsule collection for Valentine's Day, which he sold to his subscribers exclusively through WeChat – the entire collection was sold in 12 minutes.

Soon, many other luxury brands began to collaborate with the blogger – Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry and Stella McCartney. Tao is being approached as a consultant who can help improve sales in China, which remains the largest luxury market. Many brands have collaborated with the blogger to release limited edition collections – especially for China, and sometimes especially for WeChat users! Needless to say, all this was sold out in a matter of minutes!

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

X Tao Liang Givenchy Shoulder Bag

Liang explains his success as follows:

Quite frankly, there are hundreds and thousands of people who are simply obsessed with bags. But they don't have time to research and decide which bag to buy. I give them this advice,

– he said.

But do not think that this area in China is completely monopolized by men. There are quite a few girls who are also successful in social media sales.

Becky Lee (real name Fan Yimin), a journalist-turned-fashion blogger, managed to sell 100 Mini Cooper Countryman cars (each cost nearly $ 45,000) a few years ago in five minutes via her WeChat blog, where she has 4.5 million subscribers. It was a limited edition in bright blue, with Becky chosen as its face.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Becky Lee

In China, Becky is referred to as the “goddess of shopping” and has collaborated with Burberry, Giorgio Armani and Tiffany & Co. Like many of her colleagues, Becky believes that the popularity of bloggers is due to the fact that they act as intermediaries between brands and customers, providing information about new products, trends, or just the history of a particular brand that users simply do not have time to find. The high involvement of bloggers in communicating with subscribers, as well as their sincere blogging style, is especially appreciated by Chinese users.

The topics I write about really interest me, and the products I recommend I have tested myself. I am not perfect and I do not pretend to be perfect. I'm not very photogenic, so I share with my fans tips on how to look good in photos,

– Lee said.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Becky Lee

Another streaming star is 34-year-old Viya (real name Huang Wei). Its performance is simply staggering. It could attract more viewers (last May, 37 million, for example) than the finals of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and American Bachelor combined. And in one day it can bring more profit (for example, on November 11, 2019 – $ 385 million) than other companies will earn in a year.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Via

At the same time, Viya sells absolutely everything – from noodles and car fresheners to luxury. Sometime in 2019, during her broadcast, Via was selling products from New Zealand brands. As a result, her Chinese subscribers bought 120 thousand cans of honey worth $ 3.4 million, 125 thousand cans of powdered milk worth $ 2.5 million and alpaca wool blankets worth $ 1 million.

However, Viya managed to collaborate with world stars. For example, Kim Kardashian somehow connected to her broadcast. Via was then selling perfume from Kim's cosmetic line – 15 thousand bottles were sold out within minutes after the live broadcast.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Bloomberg described her live broadcasts as “part entertainment, part commercial, part group chat.” Viya also actively communicates with subscribers: snatches comments from the chat, responding to those who ask for recommendations, or calms those who want to refund.

I position myself as a person who helps the client to make a decision. I need to think about their needs

– says Via.

And the audience trusts her opinion unconditionally, which sometimes leads to rather comical situations. For example, once she just told them about fashion, but during the broadcast she ate a cupcake – the dessert aroused the interest of her subscribers. She ended up selling a thousand in one second. Via in every possible way supports this homely atmosphere of streams and her image of a simple girl, a friend with whom you can gossip. For example, she often tells subscribers how her children and husband are doing.

The blogger's success is also not accidental. Wiya had a lot of experience in retail – her whole family was involved in this, and she herself opened her first store at the age of 18. After that, the girl briefly became interested in show business and even won the Super Idol television reality show, after which she sang in a pop group for several years. But she eventually returned to retail, opening a new chain of stores, and soon joined the growing digital selling movement and Taobao streamers.

China's shopping streams as the new craze: how bloggers re-imagined

Wii's daily schedule is very harsh. She hosts a four-hour broadcast (8pm to midnight) every evening, seven days a week, sampling 30 to 40 foods. She then prepares for the next day by browsing 200 to 300 products with her team until morning. For sleep, according to her, there is time from nine in the morning until lunchtime, and then back to work. Not the most benign lifestyle, but definitely worth it: with a fortune of $ 1.25 billion, she is among the top 500 richest people in China.

China was once called a “factory country”, because most Western brands moved their production there, which provided the country with serious economic growth. As the number of representatives of the middle class grew, trade within the country began to develop dynamically, so that today China is also a “store country”.

Experts only predict further growth and development of the shopping streams market. The main consumers of this content are buzzers and millennials, but recently the older generation has also begun to actively use social networks for shopping. Do not forget that China is also the largest market for luxury goods – for this reason, Western brands are always so careful and loyal when it comes to Chinese consumers, and are ready to hush up any conflict and encourage far from conscious consumption. There is no need to talk about the end of this shopping mania yet.

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