Town versus country

‘Farmer’ livestreamer stokes row with bigger rival in bid to win business

Ju Jingyi-w

Ju Jingyi: the actress will appear on livestreams during Singles’ Day

Outside China typing “辛巴” into a Google search will generate hits related to the fictional character Simba from The Lion King. Putting the same characters into a Baidu search will get you links to the livestreaming host Xin Ba.

Xin, whose real name is Xin Youzhi, describes himself as “the son of a farmer” in a bid to appeal to fans in rural areas of China. In many of his e-commerce livestreams he likes to remind audiences of his humble origins: “I came from a farming family; so now I give back to the people.”

But with Singles’ Day fast approaching – November 11 brings the latest instalment of China’s annual shopping bonanza – the battle with other e-commerce livestreamers is heating up. Last week, Xin, who hosts his show on short-video platform Kuaishou, accused a rival of overcharging consumers for a product. The target: Li Jiaqi, another celebrity influencer, who works on Alibaba’s Taobao Live platform (for more on Li see WiC491).

During his broadcast, Xin introduced a massage chair, saying pointedly: “[The chair is] Rmb3,000 cheaper compared with someone’s livestream. I don’t know why it would cost Rmb6,000 ($897.5).”

Netizens were intrigued, soon discovering that the chair had previously been pitched on Li’s livestream for Rmb6,580. In response, Li insinuated that Xin is selling fake goods. “All the products on my livestreams are subject to taxation and they are all acquired from official channels. I don’t involve anything that doesn’t pay taxes,” he remarked.

The company that makes the chair later claimed that the two products are different, and that it gave the higher-end version to Li, which is why it cost almost double on his channel.

But industry observers reckon that Xin is deliberately picking a fight with Li at a time when livestreamers are battling to offer the best deals to draw shoppers in the run-up to Singles’ Day.

The scale of some of these sales campaigns is pretty impressive. In a pre-Singles’ Day sale event on November 1, Xin sold Rmb1 billion worth of products in four hours on Kuaishou, featuring everything from a Rmb5 toilet bowl cleaner to a Rmb960 serum from South Korean cosmetics brand Sulwashoo.

Li is also working around the clock. In late October, the livestreamer raked in Rmb5 billion of sales in just one weekend.

Xin is less well known than Li and the other top Taobao Live livestreamer Viya, especially overseas. Many of his admirers are in less wealthy parts of China, like Liaoning and Shandong. Li’s followers are mainly in first and second-tier cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou. Because of his rural roots, Xin could find it harder to break through to a fan base beyond the countryside, which probably explains why he wants a high-profile row with Li to stoke publicity.

“The fact that most of his consumers are in small cities and rural areas, and that he always calls himself ‘the son of a farmer’, along with the more rustic flavour of Kuaishou, makes it difficult for Xin Ba to expand beyond this market,” says Tencent Entertainment. “So Xin’s repeated attacks on Li Jiaqi suggest that he is using him for publicity.”

Xin has shown in the past that he is adept at getting into the public eye. When he got married in 2019, he rented out the National Stadium in Beijing, with whispers that he had splurged over Rmb50 million on the wedding, inviting more than 40 celebrities including action star Jackie Chan and singer Wang Leehom.

To cover the expenses he broadcast the event live on Kuaishou, subsequently drawing over 700 million views on weibo. He also took the opportunity to pitch a few products during his nuptials, selling as much as Rmb130 million worth of merchandise as he pledged his undying love (see WiC490).

The business-savvy livestreamer, who has 70 million followers on Kuaishou, is also trying to grow his commercial clout by representing other influencers, some of whom have also become household names. Dan Dan has almost 24 million followers on Kuaishou and Mao Meimei has 25 million, for instance. As his proteges, they get to make regular appearances on Xin’s livestreams, where he keeps audiences entertained by yelling at the junior stars or making them the butt of his jokes.

Xin is trying to break through a threshold of Rmb100 billion of sales that he set for his company at the beginning of the year. He will need to have a spectacular Singles’ Day to get close to his target. But fortunately, participation in livestreaming shopping for this year’s extravaganza looks likely to be high. According to a poll from AlixPartners, a consulting firm, only 19% of respondents said they “would not” shop via livestreaming on the day in question. The survey suggests that consumers in lower-tier cities are more likely to embrace the format too, with 93% expecting to buy something via livestreaming.

That sounds like good news for Xin, although all of China’s livestreamers are gearing up for a lucrative week of work across the various platforms that support sales.

In the same context, Alibaba has just unveiled a long list of celebrities that will make appearances on Taobao Live over the same period. A-listers such as Yang Mi and fellow actress Ju Jingyi have signed up as livestreaming guests, joining what promises to be a frenetic few days of sales activity.

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