China's livestreaming attracts young hopefuls as competition grows

By Reuters   August 14, 2023 | 06:47 pm PT
China's livestreaming attracts young hopefuls as competition grows
A host promotes a bag during a live streaming session at a warehouse of second-hand luxury e-commerce platform ZZER in Shanghai, China, July 5, 2023. Photo by Reuters
Only a few months after beginning her career as a livestream sales host in January, Zhang Jinyu, 28, a former model and blogger with a master's degree in fashion management, had clocked hundreds of hours of broadcasting time working with brands such as YSL Beauty.

A day in the life of a livestreaming host like Zhang can include more than six hours of talking almost non-stop to camera, time spent on hair, make-up, and on post-broadcast debriefs.

Despite the demanding schedule, Zhang is one of millions of young Chinese people, who are facing record youth unemployment of more than 21%, attempting to forge livestream sales success stories on platforms such as Alibaba's Tmall and Taobao and Bytedance's Douyin - TikTok's Chinese sister site.

"For livestreaming, the threshold to enter the industry is very low. I can pick up my phone and I'm livestreaming," Zhang said.

"How to stand out is difficult. This industry is highly competitive, but if you can persevere, you can get better and better. I think whether I can stand out is only a matter of my mentality and my ability."

Zhang is not alone in her determination to make livestream hosting a career.

A survey of more than 10,000 young people on social media platform Sina Weibo last month found that more than 60% of them said they would be interested in working as internet influencers or livestreaming hosts.

The livestreaming industry employed 1.23 million hosts as of 2020, according to iResearch, and a pandemic era boom in livestream sales helped the industry to generate $480 billion in business in China last year.

To facilitate an increasingly professional and competitive livestreaming landscape, agencies have sprung up to train stables of young hosts and connect suitable anchors with brands.

Zhang works with Shanghai-based agency Romomo, an arm of brand partner Buy Quickly, which helps link companies such as Lancome and Under Armor with its 150 full-time hosts.

"Today, livestreaming is one of the most important methods of communication for the international brands we work with," said Romomo Vice President Shining Li. "It doesn't just increase sales, but also helps brands to promote their brand values and products in a very efficient way."

Indeed, the way brands approach livestreaming in China has also quickly evolved. From an initial focus on massive sales via deep discounts, story-telling and longer-term consumer engagement has increasingly become the goal.

For livestream host Shi Jianing, 28, building a relationship with the consumers she communicates with during broadcast sessions for brands such as Hugo Boss is key to sales success.

"We're like friends with the consumers," she said. "If you can communicate with some personal affinity, that builds a kind of trust, and that relationship makes the consumer want to carry out the sale."

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