Live sales broadcasts driving China's e-commerce boom

Nearly 6,000 companies got into this trend this year, but when users choose a platform, the most important factor is trust – in both price and the quality of goods

by Chris Gill
Live sales broadcasts driving China's e-commerce boom
Taiwanese singer Show Lo, middle, performs at the 2019 Double 11 Carnival Night held by Tmall, a Chinese-language website for business-to-consumer online retail, in front of headquarters of Alibaba in Beijing before Double 11, a shopping holiday founded by Alibaba and popular among young Chinese people. Zhou Junxiang / Imaginechina via AFP.

(ATF) The Beijing Consumers Association recently released a survey report on live-broadband online shopping. The report said that 62% of users choose Taobao live-broadcast shopping. 

When users choose a live broadcast e-commerce platform, the most important factor is trust – in both the price and quality of goods. The better the quality, the more attractive the platform is.

This year, China has added nearly 6,000 live broadcast companies, an increase of 258% year-on-year.

In the first quarter, online live broadcast users reached 560 million, accounting for 62% of the total number of Internet users.

Yunsi E-Commerce Co Ltd believes this is the best proof of the explosive growth of live broadcast e-commerce. It also indicates that the domestic e-commerce industry will enter a new era, promoting the development of China’s economy and reform of e-commerce models.

Government reports show that after the Spring Festival holiday, demand for recruitment in the e-commerce industry rebounded. Hangzhou and Shenzhen tied for first place, with an increase of 64%, followed by Guangzhou. Compared with 2019, in the first half of 2020, the e-commerce industry's demand for talent in "live broadcast operators" increased month by month, especially from February to March this year.

Demand for talent

Research by Yunsi E-Commerce Co Ltd suggested this is a great opportunity for ordinary people, if they want to find a job or start a business. The rebound in the demand for talent had reduced the employment pressure on fresh graduates.

One of the major battles for China's e-commerce platforms like Taobao and JD.com is “618”, refers to the date June 18 (6 in Chinese means ‘June’) and signals the largest mid-year shopping festival in China.

Alibaba released data showing that the cumulative order value of T-mall 618 reached 698.2 billion yuan. During the period, the number of Taobao live broadcasts rose by 123% year-on-year, and the number of merchants that opened live broadcasts jumped by 160% year-on-year.

As China’s e-commerce goes into overdrive following the first wave of the coronavirus, a battle is being fought between “the King of e-commerce” – Alibaba, with its Alipay and Taobao platform – and Tencent, which runs, among many other things, WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform, which also has a payment system.

Top ten sites

As of June 2020 the top e-commerce sites by market share were: Tmall Mall (tmall.com is an offshoot of Taobao), followed by Taobao Mall (taobao), Jingdong (jd), Suning Tesco (suning), Pinduoduo, Dazhong Review, No-1 shop (now merged into JD.com), Gome, Vipshop and Dangdang.com.

China is rapidly becoming a cashless society, and will spend trillions of yuan upgrading network infrastructure over the next five years.

Tencent and Alibaba have always been "dead enemies," according to China Enteprise pioneer. Alibaba has famously outmanoeuvred companies like e-bay, Yahoo and global sources in the China market.

The rivalry between Tencent and Alibaba creates rapid market innovations. The two sides catch up with each other, compete, and grow together. This swift development of Tencent and Alibaba is driving China’s e-commerce. With the emergence of Alipay and continuous expansion of Taobao, many people also hope to use this platform to enter the e-commerce industry.

Why is Alibaba the leader in e-commerce? First, it appeared very early. Second, the payment methods introduced by Alipay also worked for consumers. When Taobao launched, it recognised bidding on secondhand goods would never work in China, but selling new products to consumers with a set price would. When Taobao launched, they aggressively posted a huge billboard of their logo facing the e-bay office in Shanghai.

The only "black horse" to challenge Alibaba has been Tencent’s foray into e-commerce platforms such as JD.com, Pinduoduo, and Meishuo. 

Vipshop and Pinduoduo

JD.com CEO Liu Qiangdong holds 15.8% of JD.com, while Tencent holds more than 20%. JD.com’s own strength, coupled with the support of Tencent’s social media, has gradually seen it take second position in China’s e-commerce field. To expand its offering Tencent invested in Vipshop, another e-commerce platform, and launched Special-offers. Compared with Jingdong, Vipshop's biggest feature is its "specials." Despite weak logistics and slow delivery, it has successfully ranked third in e-commerce. Also, Tencent and JD.com also gave Vipshop enough support in other areas. Vipshop's stock price plummeted, and Tencent has been increasing its holding. Jingdong signed an agreement with Vipshop as early as 2017 to send directors and observers to Vipshop.

Vipshop was formally established in 2008 and listed in New York in early 2012. It was not very popular at first, so the company invited celebrity Jay Chou to speak. Its market value has soared from less than US$400 million to $17.8 billion, an almost 57-fold increase. But in 2015, Vipshop's market value suddenly changed shrank. By 2019, the market value of Vipshop was  only $6.09 billion. The index fell nearly 62% from its peak. In 2017, Tencent invested $863 million to acquire Vipshop and obtained 7% of its shares, making it the second largest shareholder. It did not improve, but Tencent did not give up. In 2018, Vipshop was again "supplyed" by Tencent. But it failed to exploit events like  Double Eleven, the 11tth of November, which is China’s singles day, and can see turnover of 100 billion yuan an hour.

Vipshop became "A Dou", Chinese parlance for a fool, and the new site Pinduoduo immediately attracted Tencent's attention. Pinduoduo broke the e-commerce market open as soon as it appeared. Pinduoduo, like Vipshop, went public three years after it was set up, and enjoyed a market value of $30 billion. It lost some steam when the site was was alleged to have a "counterfeit problem" and labelled a "notorious market" by the US Trade Representative. That saw Pinduoduo’s market value drop 20%, but its is still worth $27.85 billion, which is four times that of Vipshop.

Pinduoduo was founded by Huang Zheng, and Tencent is its second largest shareholder. Statistics show that in 2018, Vipshop generated revenue of 84.5 billion yuan and net profit of 2.7 billion yuan. Judging from the 2019 annual results, the total net income of Vipshop in 2019 was 93 billion yuan, while the total number of active users was 69 million, and the net profit attributable to Vipshop shareholders in 2019 was 4 billion yuan.

At the same time, Vipshop is also the first platform to directly monetize e-commerce platforms. In this regard, JD.com and Pinduoduo are unmatched. JD.com was established in 1998 and did not realize profitability until 2017. Although Pinduoduo is new, the firm lost 3.956 billion yuan in 2018. 

Vipshop has been around for a long time, but it can't compete with the fresh-faced Pinduoduo. With the rapid development of e-commerce and fierce competition, it is not enough to rely on Tencent's help. If Vipshop fails to become competitive, it may become the next "dead duck".

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