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One man’s 12h live-stream on Chinese shopping platform Taobao just sold a record US$1.7b

Since 2009, China has been conducting an annual mega sale known as the Singles Day sale. Falling on November 11 every year, China’s Singles Day has, over the years, expanded into a nationwide marathon of frantic bargain-hunting, dwarfing US sales events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

So what’s leading to the stunning success of this event?

The answer lies in the rise and adoption of live commerce.

  • Ahead of China’s actual Singles Day sale, a man who live-streamed for 12 hours on Alibaba’s Taobao shopping platform sold an astounding US$1.7 billion in goods.
  • His sales broke records for any live-streamed show on Taobao, according to data.
  • China’s Singles Day is usually on November 11 and it often dwarfs US sales events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The Shoppertainment phenomenon

Since the arrival of Alibaba’s Taobao Live in May 2016, live commerce quickly established itself as a permanent fixture in sales campaigns for Singles Day and, more broadly, as a reliable digital tool for boosting customer engagement and sales. Having broken new records almost every passing year, this year’s pre-sales campaigns by Alibaba on Taobao Live were no different.

Shoppertainment, a portmanteau of ‘shopper’ and ‘entertainment’, is essentially the melding of entertainment with shopping videos and commercials.

“Shoppers expect not just to be sold to, but to be entertained as well. Instead of people searching for products, products are now searching for people” said Ng Chew Wee, Head of Business Marketing, TikTok Southeast Asia.

This demand for entertainment while shopping is the primary driving force behind the massive popularity of live commerce, and is now widely utilized by online sellers across platforms such as Shopee and Lazada in SEA.

In fact, its positive effects can not just drive online sales, but also offline sales.

Within the first 12 hours of this year’s Singles Day presale alone, one of China’s top live-streamers,  Austin Li Jiaqi — widely known as “Lipstick King”— sold a staggering US$1.7 billion worth of goods in a promotion to usher in the event, as reported in China’s Economic Daily newspaper.

His live show, streamed on Taobao, marks the first day of China’s more than three-week Singles Day shopping binge, and attracted nearly 250 million views, according to Li’s Weibo microblog account.

In total, local media reports claimed that 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 names such as L’Oréal, Shiseido, Estee Lauder, and Guerlain.

It is a rather impressive result considering how Li survived a recent China’s regulatory crackdown on androgynous pop idols and others who don’t conform to the country’s gender norms or express a more feminine style, according to Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, another top live streamer, Viya, sold about 8.3 billion Chinese yuan (US$1.25 billion) worth of goods in her 14-hour live-streaming marathon. To top it off, Alibaba’s Taobao shopping app crashed temporarily during the nationwide pre-order event, as participation sitewide was overwhelming. According to Taobao, a total of 488 million people watched the broadcasts of the two influencers.

China’s Singles Day and the art of live commerce

As McKinsey puts it, live commerce combines instant purchasing of a featured product and audience participation through a chat function or reaction buttons.

“In China, live commerce has transformed the retail industry and established itself as a major sales channel in less than five years,” McKinsey said in its report.

In fact, in a 2020 survey by McKinsey, two-thirds of Chinese consumers said they had bought products via livestream in the past year.

“Live commerce has evolved rapidly in China, taking less than five years to develop into an innovative sales channel with an estimated penetration of 10%.”

The value of China’s live-commerce market grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 280%between 2017 and 2020, to reach an estimated US$171 billion in 2020. Inevitably, the growth spurt has been intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic, and Chinese sales are expected to reach US$423 billion by 2022, McKinsey said.

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