Singles Day without live superhosts leaves Alibaba in dilemma

SHANGHAI, Oct 24 (Reuters) – When Alibaba kicks off its Singles Day extravaganza on Monday, for the first time in years, it will not be headlined by its two sales mega-stars, casting a veil over the China’s biggest business event and leaving brands guessing how well they’ll do.

The event, which the e-commerce giant has built from a one-day sale on November 11 to a nearly two-week festival, will begin with seven days of presales to allow shoppers in its Taobao and Tmall marketplaces to make deposits on securing goods later at a discounted price.

In recent years, pre-sales have been led by Li Jiaqi and Viya, known respectively as the king and queen of live sales in China, who have sold everything from lipstick to rocket launchers on Taobao Live, Alibaba Group Holding ltd. (9988.HK) live broadcast channel.

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Last year, they pre-sold a combined 18.9 billion yuan ($2.61 billion) worth of products on opening day, accounting for about 3.5 percent of the company’s total revenue. 540.3 billion yuan event.

But there will be no Viya this year. She’s been offline since she was a fine for tax evasion in December. Li, also known as Austin, has been absent from Alibaba’s Singles Day marketing, after missing for three months with netizens speculating that one of his livestreams offended Chinese censors. Alibaba declined to comment on its participation in this year’s event.

Li returned to screens last month but remains less key than before its disappearance. People close to Li told Reuters that cosmetics will make up just 30% of its range this Singles Day, down from 40% last year, with more daily necessities and Chinese brands to feature.

Although there are thousands of people in China still selling products on Taobao Live, the two accounted for the lion’s share of traffic, industry executives said.

“Before, you could just use Austin, which was kind of gorgeous – it was expensive, but you’re going to sell fast and get massive amplification,” said Josh Gardner, managing director of the marketplace’s e-commerce partner. Chinese Kung. Fu Data, which runs online stores for more than a dozen global brands, including jeans maker G-Star Raw.

“We don’t have anyone in the market anymore who can move so much and so quickly.”

Most brands, he said, are experimenting with a “portfolio approach” by leveraging different anchors — but don’t expect the same results.

Sweaty Betty China vice-president Lexie Morris told Reuters the sportswear brand would only use “one or two” livestream hosts this Singles Day season and was starting work with much smaller, more sports-focused live streams.

She said, however, that live streaming would be less important as a sales driver in the future and that working with superhosts also had downsides.

“Offering discounted products through Li Jiaqi attracts a volume of customers, but they won’t necessarily be your typical customer profile. It scrambles storage data and can confuse the Tmall platform’s traffic algorithms.”

Analysts expect to see another year of slower overall sales on this Singles Day, tempered by the slowing economy and China’s zero COVID-19 policy. Alibaba, which toned down hype for the event amid regulatory scrutiny, last year saw sales growth of 8.5%, its slowest on record.

In June, Alibaba’s rival Inc. (9618.HK) also recorded its slowest ever sales growth for 618, China’s second-largest shopping festival after Singles’ Day. Read more

In place of Li and Viya this year for Singles Day, Alibaba is promoting appearances by tech entrepreneur Luo Yonghao and Yu Minhong, founder of New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc. (9901.HK)which have pivoted to host popular live shopping shows on ByteDance’s Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok.

Lu Zhenwang, an independent e-commerce expert and founder of a Shanghai-based company that manages influencers, said the sudden change in circumstances regarding Li and Viya had made Taobao Live and superhosts less attractive to brands from the perspective purely traffic.

Others now go to Douyin where there are many niche livestreamers with their own followers.

“Taobao Live’s daily traffic has peaked,” he said.

In a statement to Reuters, Alibaba dismissed traffic concerns. “Instead of a traffic-driven model, Taobao Live helps merchants grow their businesses sustainably,” he said.

($1 = 7.2460 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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Reporting by Casey Hall and Sophie Yu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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