Published: 12:44, March 17, 2020 | Updated: 06:20, June 6, 2023
Livestreaming gets a boost amid epidemic
By He Wei in Shanghai

Employees promote online mobile phone sales via livestreaming at a shopping center in Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan province, on March 13, 2020. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

The traditional clamor coming from shopping malls and supermarkets has been decidedly subdued this winter as the novel coronavirus outbreak has confined many would-be shoppers to their homes.

But businesses have been thriving in the digital sphere, with more brands embarking on a growing marketing trend-livestreaming.

In the virtual broadcast showroom of Joyoung, a leading maker of small kitchen appliances, hosts introduce new features of a suite of gadgets that simplify cooking and food preparation. The campaign has become a daily routine since February.

Since the outbreak began, we've added a number of broadcasts each day and prolonged the duration of each show by 10 percent 

Kang Li, who oversees the company's livestreaming unit

"Since the outbreak began, we've added a number of broadcasts each day and prolonged the duration of each show by 10 percent," said Kang Li, who oversees the company's livestreaming unit.

On a month-on-month comparison, conspicuous growth has been seen in sales of soy milk makers, high-speed blenders, toaster ovens and dishwashers, Kang said.

Beyond revenue surges, the number of newly-added followers across Joyoung's major social media presence-from Taobao to short video site Douyin-topped 10,000 in just a few days.

Kang added that responses to its livestreaming shows have been "well beyond expectations", adding that fervid users snapped up "a sizable stock" of its steam-powered mops in just 30 minutes after the company invited online influencer Viya Huang to endorse and promote the product.

The past month has seen a torrent of companies jumping on the livestreaming bandwagon. In early February, livestreaming sessions had increased by 110 percent compared to the same period last year on Taobao Live, the livestreaming arm of Alibaba Group's e-commerce site.

The number of newly opened online broadcast platforms also doubled, the company said, as it rolled out incentives such as temporary fee reductions and exemptions for merchants to sign up for livestreaming services.

As public facilities continue to resume operations after an extended holiday break, physical stores remain largely shuttered to prevent further spread of the virus.

More time is needed to bring economic activity and production levels back to normal, according to a recent study by Bain& Co. Half of surveyed consumer brands said they managed to meet less than half of their preset business goals in the still-unfinished first quarter, indicating a short-term blow to business.

Online hosts introduce new features of products made by Joyoung, a leading maker of small kitchen appliances. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

"Marketing campaigns have become more flexible and inexorably shifted online, with timely adjustments on content and marketing methods made based on the outbreak," said Derek Deng, a global partner at Bain.

Established companies are avidly embracing livestreaming as a new growth tool. Yue Sai, a cosmetic brand under L'Oreal Group, debuted its official channel on Douyin in February, inviting trainers and beauty advisers to impart skin care and makeup-related information online.

"We've included trending topics like tips for applying foundation, keeping skin radiant and makeup techniques when we have to wear surgical masks," said Yuan Minghui, the brand's training manager.

For sectors temporarily affected by the epidemic, some are using livestreaming as a turnaround strategy. Shanghai-based cosmetics brand Forest Cabin temporarily closed about half of its 337 stores across China due to the virus.

It then banked on livestreaming to revive business, training its 1,600 shop attendants how to host livestreaming content, according to chairman Sun Laichun. Sun even joined in a two-hour session during a Valentine's Day promotion.

That session alone helped secure 400,000 yuan (US$57,700) in sales. Consequently, the percentage of the firm's online sales skyrocketed from a quarter to 90 percent of overall revenue, he said.

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Merchandise not traditionally sold online has also jumped on the virtual sales bandwagon. These include Volvo vehicles, which kicked off a livestreaming show featuring its XC40 model on Feb 14.

"The trial endeavor is intended to target young people who pursue fashion and safety in vehicles, but are unable to have a touch-and-feel experience via physical stores due to the sudden outbreak," the company said in a statement to China Daily.

The online broadcast via its Tmall official store has greatly boosted online orders for all Volvo models, with the XC40 accounting for half of all sales, the company said, without disclosing precise figures.

The broadcast also expanded online traffic of its official Tmall store by 30 percent. "It aligns with the consistent exploration and innovation in marketing that we've always pursued," the company said.

Kang from Joyoung also agreed that livestreaming has gone beyond pure sales to now be an effective tool of engagement. Livestreaming has in essence been a business routine for the company, long before the epidemic.

"Apart from advertising for our products, we also fine-tuned our content according to current affairs, such as sharing menus that are conducive to immunity enhancement," said Kang. "It's a natural opportunity to truly bond with our followers."

However, not everyone agrees that brands have become fully prepared to dive into livestreaming.

"From a marketing point of view, I haven't seen many outstanding campaigns during this special period of time. It's more like an expedient to handle the ongoing crisis," said Coolio Yang, former CEO of social media agency Kantar Media CIC in China.

Before embarking on livestreaming, companies must think through the following issues-logistical capabilities amid order surges, impacts on margins due to slashed prices and the ability to distinguish between "random buyers" and the brands' "target audience", Yang said.

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"For instance, if you offer too deep a discount during current livestreaming sessions, merchants will probably face customer backlashes during year-end shopping festivals, requiring the same low prices, and that's potentially a drag on profitability," Yang added.

"It requires a more concerted strategy, taking everything from public relations, brand building and broader business goals and operations into account," he said. "Otherwise livestreaming won't benefit either the consumers or companies in the long run."