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Small town makes big waves in e-commerce live streaming

By Xinhua | November 20th 2020

Video grab of the Changshu Garments Town in Changshu, east China's Jiangsu Province. [Xinhua/Li Guangzheng]

Sellers at a clothing distribution center in the eastern Chinese city of Changshu garner a daily turnover of about 400 million yuan (around 60 million U.S. dollars), just through talking to their phone screens.

As large as about 500 football pitches, the Changshu Garments Town in Jiangsu Province is home to 35 wholesale clothing markets where hundreds of thousands of people hustle around some 30,000 clothing stores every day.

Distributors in the markets, however, are no longer satisfied with the traditional offline transactions, jumping on the bandwagon of e-commerce live streaming and making waves in the biggest clothing distribution center in east China.

Among them, Yan Ke is one of the most successful live streamers who could attract more than 60,000 viewers and achieve a business turnover of about 400,000 yuan in less than 30 minutes.

Busy live streamers

Yan puts on different clothes, rubs the material and spins around, introducing every detail for about 15 hours a day, as tens of thousands of viewers watch her every move during a live streaming session.

Yan Ke (C), a livestreamer on Taobao Live, works at the Changshu Garments Town in Changshu, east China's Jiangsu Province. (Xinhua)

"Honey, don't hesitate to order this fashionable and textured suit jacket, very suitable for this season. We have black, white and khaki colors, and if you are not sure about the size, contact our customer service. Don't miss it. It's absolutely fabulous," said Yan, who is now a veteran on Taobao Live, a live streaming platform of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba.

As one of the top 10 live streamers on Taobao Live last year, the 33-year-old notched up a sales volume of nearly 700 million yuan.

The outbreak of COVID-19 that forced many people to shift their shopping online has reshaped the e-commerce industry in China, bringing live streaming to the center stage, whereas Yan had tried it as early as in 2017, a year after the launch of Taobao Live, when her online clothing shop was at a low ebb.

Yan's entrepreneurial story dates back to 2011 when she went to Changshu and ventured into e-commerce on Taobao the next year with her husband Wu Can, who just resigned from a public institution in the central province of Hunan.

Yan Ke, a livestreamer on Taobao Live, works at the Changshu Garments Town in Changshu, east China's Jiangsu Province. (Xinhua)

It was a tough start. They were nearly bankrupted by running the online store. "We owed a debt of about 3 million yuan in the most difficult time," said Wu. "Our online shop experienced wax and wane as more people tried to take a share of the spoils."

"We couldn't even pay for our child's milk powder at that time," recalled Wu.

In 2016, live streaming sales sprouted up in some parts of China, and the couple decided to give it a shot and put on their first live streaming show on Taobao in 2017.

"We sold over 50 pieces and made about 2,000 yuan in the first show, which encouraged us a lot to continue the business," said Yan.

Yan said that the most difficult part of presenting a show was to defeat her inner fear and embarrassment. "I had to force myself to face the camera and speak loudly, even when there was no audience."

To improve her performance, Yan watched a large number of popular live streaming shows on Taobao and subscribed to fashion magazines to follow the latest trends.

Their persistence paid off. More than 2.2 million fans now follow their live streaming shows. One such show could bring 1.5 million yuan in sales on average.

Promising industry

Yan stands for a new way of shopping in the country -- the convergence of e-commerce and live streaming.

A report released by the China Internet Network Information Center noted that e-commerce live streaming has become the country's fastest-growing internet application in the first half of 2020.

With over 400,000 live streamers active in the industry, China saw over 10 million live streaming marketing activities in the first half of this year, attracting over 50 billion views, said the report.

The turnover of China's live streaming is expected to hit 900 billion yuan by the end of this year. As a revolution of e-commerce, the new model has added fresh vitality to the live streaming industry with an upgraded user experience that could lead to higher user stickiness.

More clothes business owners in the Changshu Garments Town have engaged in live streaming shows, dreaming to be the next Yan Ke.

"Honey, today I will show you different kinds of clothes in vogue," said Pan Lixia, a 42-year-old businesswoman in Changshu, who made her debut in a live streaming show in June.

Owner of four brick-and-mortar clothing shops, Pan started her clothing business in the garments town when she was 18. "The sales volume of my stores has continued to decline for four years, significantly affected by online stores and e-commerce live streaming."

Like every newcomer in this emerging field, Pan felt nervous and always repeated similar words when promoting her clothes.

As was expected, Pan failed to sell any pieces in her first show although she endeavored to display and describe how the clothes were worth buying in a three-hour live streaming session.

"Just give me some time; I have the confidence that I could do it well," Pan said.

Pan took a training course organized by the management committee of the garments town to learn more live streaming skills, and the teacher suggested that she should show more energy and not repeat lines like a robot.

The committee established a specialized service office in 2017, providing training courses for traditional vendors and owners of physical stores. So far, it has cultivated more than 3,000 live streamers.

A modern logistics base is under construction near the garments town, according to Wan Xiaojun, head of the management committee. "We need to build a platform for young entrepreneurs to realize their dreams in line with the digitalization trend of the garments town."

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