Insight – E-commerce and wellness trends spark new opportunities in South Asia

The online digital economy in China is already one of the most developed in the world, with a staggering 854 million internet users.

One of the latest channels for reaching customers is live streaming, where marketers broadcast content – such as interviews and cooking displays – in real-time. According to digital marketing analysts in China, live streaming is extremely popular with merchants and consumer-facing brands.

The principal appeal of live streaming is that it creates new pathways for producers to reach a potential audience. Live streaming also creates a personal connection with consumers. And the opportunity to live stream to customers in China creates new channels for Australian exporters.

The recent live streaming of Australian rock lobsters as they arrived in China shows that agribusinesses and food exporters can consider the channel to complement their other sales and marketing strategies.

More than 500 million tune in

According to Guangzhou-based iiMedia Research, approximately 504 million people in China observed online live streaming content in 2019, a year-on-year increase of 10.6 percent. It is estimated that the figure will rise to 526 million in 2020.

An increasing number of companies are commencing to market their products via live streaming apps because it creates an opportunity to interact with potential buyers, answer inquiries and showcase products in real time.

For marketers, the ability to live stream augments traditional shelf-based e-commerce and builds on the ‘TV shopping’ model. From a supply chain perspective, it also establishes a direct link between consumer and brand.

According to financial services firm Everbright Securities, China’s live streaming e-commerce market was worth an estimated RMB 440 billion (AUD$ 91 billion) in 2019. This equates to almost nine per cent of China’s total estimated e-commerce sales in 2020.[1]

Picture of a chef cooking through a phone

(Credits: Alibaba)

Farmers growing sales through live streaming

A growing number of Chinese farmers are using innovative approaches to support sales of fresh produce direct from village farms to consumer tables. This is despite recent disruptions to supply chains and the suspension of trading through traditional retail outlets.

The use of technology to connect farmers directly to consumers is seen as a game changer for the e-commerce sector and will bring substantial benefits to businesses in rural areas.

According to Alizila, Alibaba Group’s news hub, Alibaba Group’s Taobao Live – China’s largest agricultural produce sales platform – hosted 1.6 million live streaming sessions in 2019 featuring agricultural products.

The platform has gone on to report significant growth since February 2020. More than 1,000 live-streaming hosts and companies representing a wide variety of products – including fashion and cosmetics Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) or ‘influencers’ – have become advocates for farmers, helping to promote their products. This is an increase of 110 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.

Following the launch of its Rural Support Program on February 6 2020, Alibaba Group opened up its Taobao Live platform to farmers for free.

Around 15 million kilograms of products were sold during the first three days of live streaming. The channel is now promoting fresh produce daily, with farmers using their fields as live streaming studios.

The technique predates the pandemic. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, farmers in rural China had already started to adopt live streaming as a marketing tool, including to market cumquats with the help of KOLs.

Western Australia rock lobsters’ journey to Fujian Province

In late April 2020, the arrival and unpacking of a shipment of premium Western Australia Rock Lobsters in Xiamen, Fujian province, was broadcast live to audiences in China.

The journey from Australia via ground and air transport was strictly controlled to ensure the freshness of each lobster. This batch of wild rock lobsters was caught in the pristine waters off Western Australia. Sales were strong with additional shipments following.

Industry association, Taste Australia, has worked closely with program stakeholders and Alibaba’s Hema Fresh to host a livestream episode promoting in-season Australian summer fruit. A first for Hema’s new livestreaming platform, the broadcast broke the existing record for Hema livestream sales and sold out all stock in Shanghai (one tonne of Australian summer fruit) in the first 20 minutes.

Taste Australia is the national brand that represents the Australian horticulture industry and aims to support and drive demand for fresh produce through a range of activities including trade shows and retail marketing campaigns in key export markets across Asia and the Middle East.

Tips for Australian fresh produce suppliers

With the application of new technologies – including 5G and virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) – live streaming is expected to bring closer and more intimate interactions between online sellers and consumers.

Live streaming enables consumers to understand products better and helps build brand reputation. The strategy also boosts consumer confidence and can have a strong influence on buyer decision making.

So far, the technique appears generally more suitable for B2C promotions, with webinars and videoconferencing a better alternative for B2B models. Marketing analysts offer several tips to companies considering live streaming strategies:

  • Determine measurable goals to achieve via live streaming, such as brand awareness or an increase in sales.
  • Make sure all technical details including bandwidth and other considerations have been accurately assessed before broadcasting.
  • Audiences enjoy learning something new, so include professional and industry knowledge in your content – such as how to select the best fruit, or how to prepare seafood/red meat. Farming techniques and the provenance of the produce are also hot topics.
  • Championing Australian sustainability and good farming practices will resonate with audiences in China, as will a commitment to stringent quality control.

It is important to note that Australian companies will need to comply with relevant Chinese government regulations. These may include obtaining an audiovisual publishing license and abiding by any content rules governing the platforms.

Before commencing a live streaming program, Australian exporters need to determine a reliable portal and a third party operator to lodge applications to the relevant authorities for approval. The portal and the operator will help identify the appropriate hosts to ensure a smooth broadcast.

It is also important to make sure there is strong Chinese language capability and good interpreting expertise. Good lead times, preparation and practice is key to a smooth broadcast and minimal technical hiccups!

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