In-Depth Report: Amid COVID-19, E-commerce Livestreaming Becomes Phenomenon

In-Depth Report: Amid COVID-19, E-commerce Livestreaming Becomes Phenomenon

by Yuchuan Wang

50,000, 80,000, 120,000, 210,000 ….

Looking at the skyrocketing number of viewers, Fengju Qin, the head of Baishui county in China’s Shaanxi province, couldn’t believe that there were so many people interested in watching his livestream selling local apples. He acted like an experienced sales assistant, saying with enthusiasm: “Baishui apples, juicy, crispy and sweet. You’ll certainly not be disappointed!”

In two hours, his livestream on JD.com’s app attracted more than 210,000 shoppers and sold over 100 tons of Baishui apples.

Qin doing livestreaming on JD

Not only farmers, but many brands and retailers have turned to livestreaming during COVID-19 to help reduce the impact and losses from the epidemic. According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, there were more than 4 million e-commerce live broadcasts hosted in the first quarter of 2020.

“The epidemic is devastating brick-and-mortar stores, but it also brings opportunities. E-commerce giants like JD.com has used livestreaming as a new revenue generator for businesses.” says Guowei Zhang, head of JD Live, JD.com’s livestreaming business.

Livestreaming was already becoming a phenomenon in China, and COVID-19 has only accelerated the trend. According to iiMedia Research, the number of live streaming users increased 10.6% to 504 million in 2019, which accounts for more than half of China’s total 854 million netizens.

 

 

The rural explosion

Baishui is the first county in China to be honored as the “Hometown of Apples”, and has been selling to European and US markets. The outbreak of COVID-19 resulted in nearly 200,000 tons of unsalable stock which should have been sold out during the Chinese New Year sales season. To rescue the farmers, Qin contacted JD and went on the livestream himself, together with influencers introduced by JD.

Qin is not the only local official to pick up livestreaming during the period. Over 120 mayors, county heads, and other civil servants joined JD’s livestreams during the epidemic to act as anchors and promote local agricultural products. Total cumulative viewers have surpassed 100 million.

“Rural livestreaming is a more intuitive and transparent way for consumers to shop online. But in fact, many farmers don’t know how to use it at all, ” says Zhang.

When Wenfeng Wang, the boss of Shouguang vegetable base in Shandong province, doing first livestreaming on JD, he had not had any professional equipment, like a microphone. “Farmers like me and my family have never done a live broadcast before. We just watched how other merchants do it and imitate.” He said, “I remember my first live broadcast was more like a casual talk. There was no prepared script. We went to the farm, introduced the crops, and even showed how to cook them to fill the 2 to 3 hour-long show, but there was almost no one watching or buying. ”

MIT Technology Review reported flower farmer Li Jinxing’s story. Through JD Live, he sold several hundred thousand flowers.

As early as during the Chinese New Year holiday, JD started to help farmers like Wang get their businesses online.

On February 13th, JD announced special support mechanisms for merchants and influencers doing livestreaming e-commerce to better support the rising demand for online shopping. For example, JD Live reduced the take rate to as low as 1%, provided extra traffic support, 24×7 training, and quick access to JD Logistics, which is among the few logistics companies still operating at the height of the epidemic. For projects specifically aimed at helping farmers, JD Live also provided special policies like fast enrollment and subsidies. Many influencers volunteered to provide free services to help farmers do lives too.

Wang benefited from this policy and his livestreams began to attract more and more traffic. “Gradually we can sell 1,000 to 2,000 orders each time. The influencer JD introduced helped us reach a larger fan base, and then the local county head also joined us.” Sales of Wang’s farm skyrocketed to RMB 200,000 yuan in February and to RMB 1 million yuan in March. The online channel accounted for almost 90% of Wang’s total sales during the epidemic when offline wet markets were closed and other logistics companies were suspended.

“I’ll keep doing livestreaming and working with the influencers.” Wang hopes he can bring more neighboring farm heads to join him to enjoy the benefits brought by livestreaming.

 

Bringing lifestyle online

The social “dis-dance”

One of the negative impacts of social distance is the closure of offline entertainment places. But livestreaming provided a way to cure loneliness, and parties, concerts and more all held online are going viral. It also provided a way to help brands, especially liquor brands who traditionally relied heavily on the offline scenarios put on pause by social distancing. JD’s “online clubbing” initiative was developed just for this reason – simultaneously benefitting customers and helping brands drive liquor sales.

Teaming up with multiple international liquor brands including Budweiser, Remy Martin, Carlsberg and Pernod Ricard, JD’s online clubbing initiative invites musicians and DJs to perform online, coupled with professional introductions to different kinds of liquors. Usually the live show will last three hours during which shoppers are able to purchase corresponding products directly from the livestreaming page.

Cynthia Yang (right) is doing livestream on JD

“45 brands joined the first “online clubbing”, but by the third show, there were over 200 brands joined,” said Guowei Zhang. “We now host such shows twice a week, and the schedule has been booked by brands to August.”

Several wine brands have cooperated with Cynthia Yang, a professional “wine purchaser” from JD’s wine business team, who has become a top influencer on JD Live. During her show, Cynthia typically holds a bottle of wine in her hand and introduces its unique characteristics and attributes. Her expertise on wine and deep understanding of Chinese consumers gained from working at JD have made her livestream quite popular, often attracting tens of thousands of viewers.

During one of the shows, sales generated from Cynthia’s livestream accounted for nearly 40% of total sales for the day.

At the same time, entertainment companies are trying to explore a new way to earn during the epidemic.

Musicians from Modern Sky on JD Live

Modern Sky is China’s largest independent record label. After streaming its past musical festivals online with China’s leading video sharing website Bilibili, it collaborated with JD to host “Modern Sold Out!” livestreams in April, participated by bands and independent musicians. While playing and singing their new songs, the musicians introduced their personal experiences of using selected products.

Different from influencers or celebrities, these musicians are recognized by their fans as “ideal defenders who are equipped with endless imaginations”. This creative way for them to do e-commerce livestreaming is no doubt a wonderful experience for their fans.

“I think it’s creating a new entertainment front, and a new model of business.” Said Liya Wu, vice president at Modern Sky.

 

From material needs to spiritual needs

Art is enjoying immense popularity in China especially for the younger generation. According to the National Cultural Heritage Administration, museums across China held about 26,000 exhibitions and 260,000 cultural events in 2018.

JD kicked off livestreams for cultural experiences collaborating with leading museums and galleries during COVID-19. The livestreams invite curators to conduct online tours for housebound consumers. A small section of the livestream will sell cultural products from those institutions.

Curator is touring in Guanfu Museum

On March 10th, Guanfu Museum’s session attracted over 200,000 visitors in just two hours. Sales of the Guanfu Museum flagship store increased about 460%. In another session, sales of the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art’s store doubled compared with the day before.

 

Boosting sales for international brands

With travel restrictions imposed, it has become difficult for Chinese consumers to buy international brands via personal travels or daigou (overseas buyers). The temporary closure of brick-and-mortar stores also greatly affected the sales of international brands.

On April 22nd, brands including Clarks, TUMI, PHILIPS and Havaianas executed a two-hour cross-category livestream on JD releasing 2020 Spring & Summer products and invited young actor Sun Jian to interact with visitors. The livestream attracted an astonishing 1.35 million online shoppers. Transaction volume of Clarks increased 2178% on a monthly basis while transaction volume of TUMI increased 2368% compared with the daily average of the previous week.

On March 19th, luxury fashion brand PORTS did a nine-hour long live stream gathering over 10 brands’ products from the group, featuring young celebrity Jeffrey Dong – nephew of Jackie Chan, and the fashion editor of ELLE. Over 1.3 million customers visited the livestream and PORTS’ sales surpassed RMB 10 million on that day.

Although “nine-hour” sounds exaggerated, Zhang said: “We always recommend merchants doing longer than 2 hours. Usually the influencers will live 3 to 6 hours with a prepared script determining what to do and what to sell each time block.” This way brands can reach a wide variety of users since consumers on e-commerce sites differ each hour.

“We have seen an increasing number of brands doing livestreaming on JD this year, especially the big ones. They are quite sensitive to the latest market trends and have a higher requirement for their shows in terms of idea, process, etc.” said Zhang.

 

Post-COVID-19: Not only for sales, but also for effective branding

At a time when acquiring new customers is progressively costly, live streaming is helping retailers and brands rapidly obtain quality traffic at low cost.

Zhang mentioned that compared with 2018, the Growth Merchandise Volume (GMV) of e-commerce livestreaming in 2019 increased at least six fold, the number of users increased at least ten fold, and the number of broadcasts increased five fold. “A single broadcast generating RMB 10 million sales has become quite common, even 100 million is typical. I’ve seen sales generated from livestreaming increase from negligible to 2%, 5% and to nearly 10% of e-commerce’s total sales,” said Zhang. “But merchants should do it in a long-term way, and care more about customers than about pure sales data, and make sales a natural result of brand marketing.”

In February, as people in China gradually resumed work, JD and Procter & Gamble jointly launched a one-week-long series of live broadcasts called “Science Lab”. Not focusing on sales, it invited internet celebrities, P&G’s scientists and doctors to introduce personal protection guidelines. Both companies believe e-commerce livestreaming should not be just a sales channel, but a brand marketing scenario.

JD x P&G Science Lab

In about one hour, the “Science Lab” attracted a million people to watch, and viewers were quite active in interaction with the hosts. “Most of the people are potential buyers who recognize and favor P&G’s brand image. Through livestreaming, we made purchasing part of a natural process.”

“Brand marketing will no longer be difficult to quantify, but more efficient and sensible.”

“E-commerce livestreaming will certainly generate greater value for commerce,” said Zhang, “Not 10% or 20%, it could be much higher. But I dare not predict as it’s developing too fast.”

 

(yuchuan.wang@jd.com)

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