Chinese livestreamers set their sights on TikTok sales to shoppers in the US and Europe

july 19, 2023  -HONG KONG (AP) — Chinese livestreamers have set their sights on TikTok shoppers in the U.S. and Europe, hawking everything from bags and apparel to crystals with their eyes on a potentially lucrative market, despite uncertainties over the platform’s future in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In China, where livestreaming ecommerce is forecast to reach 4.9 trillion yuan ($676 billion) by the year’s end, popular hosts like “Lipstick King” Austin Li rack up tens of millions of dollars in sales during a single livestream. Many brands, including L’Oreal, Nike and Louis Vuitton, have begun using livestreaming to reach more shoppers.

But the highly-competitive livestreaming market in China has led some hosts to look to Western markets to carve out niches for themselves.

Oreo Deng, a former English tutor, sells jewelry to U.S. customers by livestreaming on TikTok, delivering her sales pitches in English for about four to six hours a day.

“I wanted to try livestreaming on TikTok because it aligned with my experiences as an English tutor and my past jobs working in cross-border e-commerce,” Deng said.

Since 2019, western e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Facebook have experimented with livestreaming e-commerce after seeing the success of Chinese platforms like Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao, and Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese counterpart in China.

TikTok started testing its live shopping feature in 2021. Registered merchants from the U.S., Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore, among other countries, can now sell via livestreams online.

But livestreaming e-commerce has yet to take off in the U.S. The livestreaming e-commerce market in the U.S. — the world’s biggest consumer market — is expected to grow to $68 billion by 2026, according to research and advisory firm Coresight Research.

The relatively lukewarm reception led Facebook to shut down its live shopping feature last year. As for TikTok, the platform has the added risk of potentially facing U.S. restrictions due to tensions between Beijing and Washington.

TikTok, whose parent company is Chinese technology firm ByteDance, has been criticized for its Chinese ties and accused of being a national security risk due to the data it collects.

TikTok did not provide comment for this story.

Despite the scrutiny faced by TikTok, many Chinese hosts view the U.S. as a vast ocean of opportunity, an emerging market that has yet to be saturated with livestreaming hosts.

“There’s more opportunity for growth to target America because the competition is so fierce in China,” said Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai. “Livestreaming in the U.S. is at a beginning starting point. There’s more opportunity to grab market share.”

Rein also said that Chinese merchants can often price items higher in the U.S., where customers are accustomed to paying higher prices compared to in China, where product margins are often razor-thin.

“The format is going to work, because it’s been proven,” said Jacob Cooke, CEO of e-commerce consultancy WPIC.

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