Behind the Boom of Live Commerce – the War between Capital and Online Celebrities


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Have you ever imagined one scene where you spend half of your monthly salary in one night just because some online personality urges you to buy something on his live-streaming show? This is happening in China. Let's dive into the world of live-streaming for e-commerce. 

The explosive growth of live streaming for e-commerce

Overall, compared to the western world, China has shifted its economy into a style which is called ‘Internet +’ by learning from the experience of America. E-commerce especially plays a key role in the B2C market. The market revenue of e-commerce in China is expected to get $1,057,967m in 2020.


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In the meanwhile, live streaming has become a multi-billion dollar market in China, and millions of Chinese youth have already embraced live streaming as a part of their life.


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Therefore, the technology base and customer base are strong enough for capitalists and some talents to develop live-streaming for e-commerce. The nightmare of your wallet has begun. According to the data from China Industrial Information Network, there was 440 billion RMB revenue spent in this market in 2019. And the volume is expected to rise in further years. 

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What men dread and women can't refuse

When we talk about this topic, I have to introduce two people to you. Austin Li (Li Jiaqi) and Viya. Austin is known as the Lipstick King in China. He is the ‘enemy’ of every Chinese man, because he 'steals' our girlfriends' and mothers’ wallet. He earned 200 million RMB (US$29 million) in 2019. In the last ‘Double 11’(China’s Black Friday), he sold 15,000 lipsticks in 5 minutes.

As he said, “I dreamed that I’d quit this business when I earned 20 million RMB; however, I achieved that too fast. Thus, I have to keep serving my fans”. At least, he only recommends good products. He complains that Hermes’ lipstick is not suited to Asian skin colour. As my girlfriend says, he is more reliable and convincing than me. The trust between him and his customers are the key to his success.

As for Viya, she is the biggest traffic in this market who broke her own sales record once again, driving 353 million RMB (roughly 49.7 million USD) in sales in a single day on October 10th. She organized a Thanksgiving Day party and shared it on live-streaming, which attracted 113 million people to watch online. Everything she had at the party only sold at 5.21 RMB (less than 1 dollar). And the total benefit she provided to viewers was around 60 million RMB. She also sold 5 commercial rocket launch deals for 45 million RMB each, which was on April Fool’s Day.

The power of capitalism

Is it easy to make money in this business? Of course not. There are two strong groups in this market: MCN (Multi-Channel Network) organizations and brands. Even Austin and Viya need to make a profit so they cooperate with various brands. Some livestreamers must sell a certain amount of product, or they will be punished.

They do not have much freedom. People will remember everything that they say and discover everything they have done. Losing private space is the cost of being a public figure. They are also managed by many live-streaming rules. For instance, they cannot say any sensitive words in their live-streaming studio or do any offensive behaviour. When consumers learned about Austin’s smoking habit, some of them criticized him for it.


(the number of MCN in China from 2015 to 2018)


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A livestreamer's life behind the scenes

Being a live-streamer has become a dream job for Chinese young people. However, most of them don't know the hidden cost of that job. Austin nearly gave up this job due to few followers at the beginning. Only 500 people watched his live-stream. He had hardly any salary for a long time. His skin has also been damaged due to cosmetics. While many women may find their lips hurt after testing three lipsticks in a row, his highest test number is as many as 380 lipsticks in one day.

"Testing lipstick can damage the lips, but I do not treat my lips as lips," Li said. Therefore, his fans have given him the nickname "Iron-Lipped Brother". Thousands of lipsticks and other cosmetics are in his studio, and he can find any brand or colour of cosmetic within 30 seconds. And that kind of professional spirit is one of the reasons that he reached the top of the industry.

Viya also has an unknown past. She is a successful and powerful woman in business. For more than three years, Viya has been too busy to care for her own daughter. In a variety show, she said that she received a message from her 8-year-old daughter, “All the other children have their mothers to accompany them, but she does not.” I believe that Viya loves her child and wants to spend more time with the family. But if she stops live-streaming for a few days, she would lose millions of followers. The relationship between career and family is hard to balance for her.

Overall, live-streaming is becoming a big trend. Live-streamers are not as glamorous as they show in the studio. But we should recognize their hard work and appreciate their commitment to make life easier for all of us.




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