Across China: Small businesses look to livestreaming to ring up big sales



Yan Ke puts on a black suit jacket, rubs the material and turns around as tens of thousands of viewers watch her every move in a livestreaming session.

"Babies, look at this suit jacket. It only costs 180 yuan (around 25 U.S. dollars) and is very suitable for office ladies. If you like it, remember to add it to your basket," said the 33-year-old broadcaster.

"Baby," or "baobao" in Chinese, is a common term used by hosts of Taobao Live, the livestreaming unit of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, to address their audience, which makes them appear friendly and helps build rapport.

In less than 30 minutes, Yan attracted over 60,000 viewers and achieved a business turnover of about 400,000 yuan by selling different types of clothes.

As one of the growing number of livestreamers, Yan stands for a new way of shopping in the country, sweeping retailers in a boom of "live commerce," the convergence of e-commerce and livestreaming.

The number of users of a burgeoning business model that integrates e-commerce with livestreaming had hit 265 million by March, making up 29.3 percent of the country's total number of internet users, according to a report released by the China Internet Network Information Center.

The new model has added fresh vitality to the livestreaming industry with an upgraded user experience that could lead to higher user stickiness.

Yan and her 34-year-old husband Wu Can ventured into e-commerce in 2012. They moved to Changshu, a city known for garment manufacturing in east China's Jiangsu Province, and opened an online clothing shop on Taobao.

The couple started experimenting with livestreaming in the latter half of 2016. "We sold more than 50 pieces of clothing and earned over 2,000 yuan in our first livestreaming session," Yan said. With unyielding efforts, Yan's livestreaming show today has 2.28 million followers.

The e-commerce livestreaming has kicked into high gear as the novel coronavirus epidemic forces many people to shift their shopping online. Yan's daily sales on livestreaming sessions increased to more than 1.2 million yuan from over 800,000 yuan before the epidemic.

Many people in rural China are also jumping on the livestreaming bandwagon to increase the sales channels for their agricultural products. Data showed that as of March, more than 60,000 farmers had registered on Taobao Live.

Liang Guanhua, a migrant worker in southwest China's Sichuan Province, recently came back to his hometown Haiqi Village in Lianyungang City of Jiangsu and became a livestreaming host to sell seafood.

"I earn more money now, and a growing number of young people are willing to return home," said Liang, adding that it was common for a popular livestreamer to earn over 10,000 yuan a month at home.

Known for seafood, Haiqi Village is home to more than 1,100 households, and over one-fourth of them are occupied in the e-commerce sector. Thanks to the new business model, the annual seafood sales in the village can reach around 2 billion yuan, according to Li Jiashi, Party chief of the village.

"Livestreaming e-commerce is more than a fad," said Diao Chen, an official with the Wuxi municipal bureau of commerce.

Diao said livestreaming would not only help physical stores tide over the period of difficulty, but also better integrate with the real economy to provide diversified products and tailored services for consumers.