On the night of June 18, Li Jiaqi, looking visibly exhausted, announced in a raspy voice on his Taobao Live channel that he would take a week off after the 618 shopping bonanza (named after the date June 18). The king of lipstick sales (see WiC491), who has been struggling with rhinitis and bronchitis, told his legions of fans that he needed to undergo a “small surgery” and his “office also needed an upgrade”.
It should hardly come as a surprise that Li, like many e-commerce livestreamers in China, needed a break after working overtime in the run-up to the 618 festival. This year’s event was bigger than ever. The Chinese government saw it as an occasion to reboot domestic consumption following the Covid-19 outbreak. Consumer brands that were struggling during the pandemic with ‘locked down’ shoppers also pinned their hopes on 618 to boost second quarter sales.
A lot of companies tapped livestreamers to sell their products. “The battle of this year’s 618 was longer than ever before, lasting almost a whole month. A lot of merchants started promoting as early as May 20. We only started on the night of the 24th. But we started the whole planning process back in April,” an executive that works for the ailing livestreamer Li told Lanjing Caijing.
“How do I feel about 618? Tired. The whole event was so long: I have been working non-stop since the beginning of the month to the middle of the month,” Cassie, the manager of a women’s apparel storefront on Tmall, told Yuele Wanjia, a showbiz portal. “But exhaustion aside, we are still hopeful that this 618 will deliver explosive results, bringing the first half of this year to a perfect conclusion.”
Thankfully, China’s consumers did not disappoint. Gree chairwoman Dong Mingzhu took the crown for the top online salesperson, selling Rmb10.2 billion worth of appliances during her four-hour session (although there were rumours that most of the buyers on her livestreams were her own distributors). Li, the lipstick king, racked up Rmb223 million, mostly in the beauty category. Viya, another internet KOL, drove Rmb140 million in sales and as many as 30 million people tuned in to her channel on Taobao Live at its peak.
E-commerce giants also had plenty to celebrate. JD.com reported its transaction volume totalled Rmb269.2 billion ($38 billion), which was 34% higher than the year-earlier amount. Alibaba said its own gross merchandise value topped Rmb698.2 billion across its e-commerce platforms, with 3C (computer, communication and consumer electronics) and home appliances being the two most popular categories.
Smartphone makers were especially aggressive as they sought to offload their inventory. Because of the pandemic, consumers had largely held back on upgrading their handsets. Huawei saw its domestic shipments drop from 36 million units to 28 million units in the first quarter. Globally, too, its smartphone shipments plummeted from 60 million to 30 million units.
All the major smartphone manufacturers introduced discounts during the 618 campaign this year, ranging from Rmb300 to Rmb800, 36Kr reported.
Even Apple took part. On Tmall, it offered a Rmb400 discount on its iPhone 11 (Rmb4,999 before discount) and Rmb500 on the iPhone 11 Pro (Rmb7,499), which helped sales reach Rmb500 million in the first five hours of the promotion. Huawei offered up to 30% off some of its flagship models like the Mate30 and Nova6.
Homegrown labels were the biggest winners. Five out of the six phone makers that surpassed Rmb1 billion of sales on Tmall were domestic brands (Huawei, Midea, Haier, Xiaomi and Aux).
Nevertheless, consumers are still showing signs of trauma from the coronavirus crisis. Toilet paper, the shortage of which caused mayhem in the initial stages of the outbreak, was the top-selling item this year, along with milk, wet wipes and detergents. Some medical face masks also sold out during the shopping event…
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