Shoppertainment and live stream commerce is saving China, so what can it do for your business? 

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

These days, it’s possible to build a business without having a retail outlet, but that does mean having an online store and publicity to get customers to check out your products and services, and live streaming is one of the ways to get that publicity. Live streaming is topical, because the Chinese economy is surviving and some would say thriving in certain pockets down to the efforts of live streaming. The spending patterns of people are changing fundamentally and shifting to online modes of shopping, as shoppertainment and livestream e-commerce are filling the store gap in the UK, America, and all over the world due to COVID. Although it’s perhaps in China that it has had the greatest impact, it’s not just limited to China, but China could be the one to show us the way. 

With the growth of mobile and the beginnings of live streaming, in China, these methods are being employed by spokespeople for companies as well as towns and provinces. In Hubei province, which has 60 million inhabitants, the local provincial government offices are live streaming to endorse and to sell products made by the companies within their province. They’ve currently sold £2 million pounds or $2.5 million worth of goods in one day through this campaign. Actual spokespeople are entering the scene and becoming trade ambassadors for their town or province. People may well see chambers of commerce in other countries starting to ask their mayors or provincial or regional officials to start to go online and promote their region or town in a way that was unheard before, even at a product level. 

Why live streaming is so popular in China

In China, it doesn’t seem to know any bounds. To further understand the growth of e-commerce and live streaming in China, Charles, an EASTWEST Public Relations consultant based in Beijing, shares the influence of live streaming. He talks about the rise of Taobao which is the Amazon of China. It’s the platform with the largest number of live streaming sales, and during COVID, in February, they saw a 719% increase in new sellers. That doesn’t mean that everybody’s making that much more money, but it does show a migration from the brick and mortar stores to online. And so, China could give some clues and lessons about what can be done in the West to build a business and continue it in the mobile and the digital era.

According to Charles, live streaming is very popular right now. Data from the Ministry of Commerce shows that in the first quarter of this year, there were more than 4 million live broadcasters on e-commerce in China. This year, under this special situation, live streaming has not only become an important channel for sales, but it also drives new consumption patterns. All kinds of governments, media, institutes, and enterprises have been testing live streaming and making use of different tactics to sell products and promote their brands, so it’s definitely opened the doors for sales and marketing. Live streaming has become a broader space for the development of companies in the beauty, makeup, food, cars, books, home decorations, and digital industries. 

When you go to the Taobao’s live broadcast interface, a wide range of options comes into view. At present, live streaming is not only popular but also diversified. In April, professional broadcaster Viya went live on Taobao, and within minutes after the link went on sale, a rocket launch worth 40 million yuan (or 5.6 million dollars) was sold. You may wonder why live streaming does so well. According to Charles, the live streaming process forms a closed loop of information about the goods from selling to buying, which reduces the transaction decision-making time. The presentation and explanation of sellers are lively, highly credible, and to a certain extent, they reduce information imbalance between buyers and sellers. 

Compared to traditional e-commerce, live streaming is more interactive and warm. Also, there are more and more technical ways added into live streaming. For instance, people can see and view the color of the lipstick through VR technology, eliminating the need to go to the mall. What’s even better is live streaming is becoming incorporated in more and more social platforms, not only on Taobao. You can find it on TikTok, WeChat, and almost all e-commerce platforms. Anything can be sold through live streaming, even a rocket. What’s next? Maybe your new home. It’s amazing what can be sold online when the platform is correct, and it’s something all businesses should consider, because brick and mortar stores may not come back again, since people, especially the younger, more tech-savvy kids, don’t believe they have to go to town to go shopping. They shop with their mobile phones and have things delivered by a courier, all from the comfort of their home.

Live streaming platforms to get the business noticed

For broadcasting, one of the leading platforms is Daycast, which is a small- to medium-sized video platform with streaming solutions that start at $19 per month. The benefit of using this instead of Facebook Live or YouTube Live is that you’re in control, and there’s the ability to monetise, either via a payment gateway or by embedding APIs for e-commerce. You also get better video quality with much less latency.

There’s another company called Brightcove based out of Boston, and although it’s only 16 years old, it doesn’t sound young by this industry’s terms. In 2019, Brightcove bought Ooyala out of the market, and currently, Brightcove offers an enterprise-grade video broadcasting platform for $499 a month. Another option is IBM Cloud Video which has a basic streaming-for-free service supported by IBM Advertising. For $99 a month, you can remove the advertising, get custom branding, have analytics, and content syndication. Vimeo also has a livestream platform that it acquired in 2017. This can offer pay-per-view, and using Zoom, you can also integrate PayPal and pay-per-view too. Vimeo is only $7 a month, but it’s blocked in China, and it may have less traffic to their site than other platforms. With Vimeo, IBM, Daycast, or Brightcove, you have the stream, but you don’t have the audience, so this is what public relations is for.

What Amazon and Livescale have to offer 

Amazon, the biggest online store in the world, has 780 billion dollars of market cap. It’s nearly 50% of all e-commerce in America. If you’re a registered Amazon seller, you can download the Amazon Live Creator app. You need to have what they call an OBS or an Onboard Streaming App to help encode the video. You basically download the app, this OBS software, and if you’ve already got your products, then you can live stream directly from your Amazon store using the mobile app. You can use your phone, or a camera with your desktop to film, so it’s similar to Taobao.

You can also start your own ad campaigns, which is super useful, and you can set them up easily, so that seems to be another really good option for anybody that is selling products to get registered with Amazon and to have the store already set up using Amazon and the consumers already within the Amazon Marketplace. The next step would be getting good ratings and reviews on the Amazon seller products, which is a huge part of public relations. The Amazon Live Creator app currently only runs on iOS, which is a bit of a problem if you’re an Android user. The app’s rating itself is 3.6 out of five. One person said it was a fantastic app and that their sales have increased fivefold since they started streaming on Amazon Live. 

An alternative is Livescale, which was founded in 2016 in Canada by Virgile Ollivier and Laurent Boutet. On Livescale, they’ve built in a payment system and a shopping cart, which goes straight to your e-commerce. You can also allow live shopping on video purchases, which means that if you’ve got someone hesitating at the checkout, you can talk to them and negotiate with them. Like Taobao, it’s the complete shopping experience the Chinese are having online. At the moment, Amazon Live sounds as though it’s the closest to Taobao, but Livescale seems to be offering a great alternative.

Public relations helps to get people to find your store through media relations on social media, but public relations now is part of the entire purchase chain as well. And because public relations bleeds into reviews, user-generated content, and ratings, live shopping and live streaming have to be part of what companies are thinking about when it comes to integrated sales and customer service strategy. Since the customer experience is part of public relations, these tools and platforms can hopefully give you an insight into what’s happening in one of the world’s largest consumer markets (if not the largest), and certainly the world’s largest mobile consumer market.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by on Unsplash

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