It’s that time again: 11.11, or Singles Day, China’s answer to Black Friday and the world’s biggest shopping holiday.
In keeping with expectations, China’s biggest retailer and the originator of Singles Day, Alibaba, broke its sales record for the 11th consecutive year, surpassing last year’s record of 213.5 billion RMB (nearly US $30.5 billion) on Monday afternoon local time.
Singles Day is also a force to be reckoned with across Southeast Asia, with ecommerce platform Lazada saying it took in a record three million orders in the first 60 minutes on Singles Day, and rival firm Shopee tripling its order volume in the first hour compared with last year.
Alongside the big, impressive sales numbers, one of the major draws for this year’s Singles Day has been the livestreams. In China and Southeast Asia, livestreaming has risen to prominence over the past two years as a major channel that combines entertainment and ecommerce. Influencers use livestreams to show off products, conduct reviews, carry out demonstrations and offer discounts, while shoppers buy the products from a featured catalogue without needing to close the livestream.
This year, US mega-influencer Kim Kardashian West joined the world of Chinese influencers just in time for Singles Day. Taking part in a livestream alongside Viya, a Chinese influencer with more than nine million followers, Kardashian sold 15,000 bottles of her perfume in just a few minutes.
The speed and success of this sale is a testament to the power of livestreaming, and influencers like Viya, in Chinese ecommerce. Kardashian already has a presence on Chinese platforms like Weibo and social commerce site Xiaohongshu – but it took a livestream ahead of Singles Day to really get sales of her products moving.
The rise of “shoppertainment”
The term “shoppertainment” (or sometimes “entertainmerce”) is often used to describe the combination of entertainment and commerce that characterises livestreaming in China and, increasingly, Southeast Asia. Unlike in the west where livestreaming is the province of breaking news, gaming and other entertainment, in China and Southeast Asia it is used as a platform for showing off and selling products.
Alibaba-owned shopping website Taobao, for example, has a livestreaming platform called Taobao Live; in March, Senior Director of Taobao Content Ecology Wen Zhong said that Taobao Live has become a “standard configuration” for ecommerce shops doing business on Taobao, rather than an “optional choice”. Social commerce platform Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) quietly began testing a livestreaming feature in June, while in September, it was revealed that WeChat is speeding up the integration of livestreaming into its mini-program platform in order to boost the company’s ecommerce presence.
In Southeast Asia, Alibaba-owned ecommerce platform Lazada introduced a livestreaming feature in March to celebrate its 7th anniversary, marking Southeast Asia’s entry into the world of “shoppertainment”. Shoppe followed suit in June with the launch of an in-app livestreaming feature, Shopee Live. In May, Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten also launched a livestreaming service with built-in live shopping functionality.
With so many livestreaming launches and announcements ahead of Singles Day 2019, it’s little surprise that livestreaming has been a major focus of this year’s event. Alibaba rival JD.com, China’s second-largest internet retailer, launched its Singles Day campaign on 1st November, and enjoyed a livestreaming audience 36 times larger than that of 2018, according to Marketing Interactive, with five times the total sales volume.
Livestreaming success stories from the run-up to Singles Day include Chinese automobile firm JMC, which reportedly sold 55 cars in one second, and beauty brand Whoo, which took in record sales of 100 million RMB (US $14 million) in just six minutes of livestreaming. Tech firm Huawei also pulled in more than 13 million RMB in sales through livestreaming on JD.com on the night of 31st October.
JD.com’s Head of Livestreaming, Guowei Zhang, told Marketing Interactive that consumers are more inclined to trust products after viewing them on a livestream. “Live-streaming essentially creates a real-life shopping experience scenario that draws consumers even closer to a product. Through real-time interaction with key opinion leaders, consumers will be able to try, feel and inevitably trust the products,” he said. “Live-streaming, just like every other content marketing tool, is a catalyst to help consumers make shopping decisions.”
Meanwhile on Alibaba, more than half of merchants on Tmall have reportedly used livestreaming to sell products during Singles Day, and Alibaba has reported that sales generated via livestreaming surpassed 10 billion RMB at 8:55am local time. Josh Gardner, CEO of Kung Fu Data, who helps overseas companies sell products on Tmall, attributes the appeal of livestreaming to its entertainment value and ease of transacting.
“Nearly all our brands have opted for livestreaming promotions sometime this year,” he told Reuters. “It’s more entertaining than browsing through a product detail page. Traffic from livestreaming is easy to convert into transactions, and Tmall has supported stores that run livestreaming activities with resources.”
The rise of livestreaming has also been a boon for overseas brands, who have found it easier to break into the Chinese market by partnering with a native influencer – just as Kim Kardashian West did with great success a few days before the big event.