E-commerce behemoth Alibaba’s livestreaming unit, Taobao Live, has seen rapid growth in February as offline businesses increasingly seek out online marketing and sales channels during the Covid-19 epidemic, which has forced much of China to a standstill.

Why it matters: Livestreams, grocery delivery, and online healthcare are surging in popularity, some of the few bright spots in the digital economy during a health crisis which has immobilized the country.

  • Livestreamed e-commerce has been gaining momentum since last year thanks to the rise of content-driven e-commerce. The epidemic has further accelerated its expansion from standard categories such as cosmetics and apparel to cars, real estate, and more.
  • Livestreams spiked for short video apps like Douyin and Kuaishou.

Details: As of Feb. 18, the number of live broadcast rooms on Taobao Live has doubled and livestream events surged 110% year on year during the month, according to data from the company. Hosts from more than 100 different occupations and sectors livestreamed on the platform in February, the company said.

  • A total of 31 well-known food and beverage companies including northwest Chinese restaurant chain Xibei and hotpot chain Xiaolongkan signed up for livestreaming on Feb. 10, the day Taobao Live removed prerequisites for offline store operators to join and began offering operational tools free of charge.
  •  Taobao Live has attracted more than 5,000 real estate agents from over 500 brokers from nearly 100 cities in China, data from the company showed. From Feb. 12 to 17, there were some 2 million users watching livestreamed real estate events on Taobao Live. Beijing, and Jiangsu and Shandong provinces were the top three areas in terms of the number of livestream hosts in this sector.
  • More than 20 global car brands including BMW and Audi are also leveraging livestreaming to sell cars. Taobao Live currently hosts around 100 livestreamed auto events every day. It is unclear how many brands and events were newly added during the virus lockdown period.
  • The entertainment sector is also tapping livestreams to engage audience and fans. “Cloud clubbing,” live streaming sessions launched by music labels and clubs on video platforms like Douyin, Kuaishou and Bilibili, went viral over the past week. Meanwhile, 21 celebrities and singers held an online concert on Taobao Live from their homes on Valentine’s Day, attracting around 4 million fans.
  • Museums and bookstore chains are using livesteams to attract audiences now that visitors have dropped significantly.
  • Tens of millions of people around China watched the livestreamed construction of two specialized hospitals built to battle Covid-19 in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Context: First gaining popularity with gaming and entertainment content, China’s livestreaming boom is extending into the e-commerce industry.

  • Alibaba’s Taobao generated more than RMB 100 billion in gross merchandise volume from livestreaming sessions throughout 2018, an increase of nearly 400% year on year.
  • Taobao Live recorded sales of RMB 20 billion ($2.85 billion) during the Singles Day shopping event held on Nov. 11, accounting for around 7.5% of the group’s overall RMB 268.4 billion in sales.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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