After disappearing abruptly from public view in June, China’s biggest e-commerce livestreamer is back. Li Jiaqi’s return was as unexpected as his exit. But on September 20, he resurfaced on Taobao Live, generating so much buzz that he became the top trending news item on social media. Over 60 million viewers tuned into Li’s livestream, which received more than 160 million ‘likes’. Over two hours, he promoted 27 products, generating over Rmb120 million in gross merchandise value (GMV).
“I’m so happy I’m crying,” one fan sobbed on seeing Li, often called the ‘Lipstick King’, back on screen.
So what’s changed in the 109 days since he vanished? Li, 30, seemed fresh-faced and energetic after his unexplained hiatus. But his studio’s backdrop was noticeably more subdued. Gone were the vivid red backgrounds touting bargain deals and sales slogans. Instead a wall was stamped with ‘Li Jiaqi Live Show’ along with the advice – or perhaps, the disclaimer – “spend rationally, shop happily”.
Compared with previous performances when the influencer would plug more than 50 products in a single session, his first two livestreams were also shorter in duration and the selection of goods was much more limited. Also notable was that Li has dropped his famous catchphrase, “Oh, my God! Buy it! Buy it!”.
Instead he urged his viewers to stay calm and rational in their shopping. “Please don’t buy the products just to support us. If you have plentiful supplies of [something] at home, [wait and] only buy when the supplies run out,” he pleaded.
Li’s approach, although cautious, was still commercial. He kept the prices of his goods low, focusing on daily necessities like hand wash, shampoo and razors. “On the one hand, Li Jiaqi is testing whether he has lost a lot of fans during his disappearance, and whether they have switched to other livestreamers. But he also needs to use the sessions to prove his ability to sell products to merchants and brands,” says Jiemian.
For a lot of businesses, Li’s return will be welcome. Bloomage Biotech, the country’s largest manufacturer of hyaluronic acid, saw its share price jump after its skincare brand QuadHA sold out on Li’s first livestream. Beauty giant Shanghai Jahwa, who has worked extensively with Li to drive online sales, even cited the “absence of a super livestreamer” as one of the factors crimping its results earlier this year.
Li’s reappearance should also benefit Alibaba and its livestreaming channels. An industry insider told China News Weekly that the e-commerce giant had been trying to fill Li’s absence with other hosts, but with nothing like the same success. “Li Jiaqi’s comeback is conducive to the long-term development of Taobao Live as it ends the embarrassment of not having a lead livestreaming host,” the unnamed source confirmed. “His return is going to be hugely important for Taobao Live to win back users.”
Li’s reappearance could also serve as a shot in the arm for Singles’ Day, China’s largest online shopping festival, which takes place on November 11. Few expect this year’s sales fiesta to break any records. Indeed, Alibaba is said to be planning to launch Singles’ Day promotions as early as October 24 in a bid to jumpstart sales in a sluggish economy.
Duojiao TMT is claiming that Li is fully booked between now and the end of the year, which signals that consumer brands are betting on the influencer to drive their sales in the fourth quarter as well. “Given Li Jiaqi’s popularity, it is almost certain that the beauty and personal care industry will achieve a short-term sales boom,” Beijing Business Today also predicted.
Despite government concerns about the influence of superstar livestreamers like Li, they still hold enormous sway over the country’s consumers, it seems.
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