With China Under Quarantine, People Turn to Livestreams and Shopping

People are turning to videos of pet pigs and going out vicariously

a dog in a suit and a cat in a dress
Pets have become popular fixtures on livestreaming platforms in China. Alibaba
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Key insights:

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, people in China are enduring what The New Yorker described as “the largest quarantine in human history”—and to cope, they’ve turned to livestreams and shopping.

According to Chinese ecommerce platform Alibaba, livestreaming has been crucial for allowing people to work remotely, but is also an important lifeline in other respects. Per Alibaba’s figures, even in early February, the number of livestreams on its Taobao Live platform had more than doubled from the same time last year.

And it’s pets who have become some of the hottest stars on the platform.

“Every day, viewers are tuning in to watch their favorite furry hosts eat, nap and even go on ‘blind dates’ online,” Alibaba said.

Pet pigs in particular have proven to be a hit, as “pig livestream” was one of the most popular search phrases in February.

Meanwhile, ecommerce platform JD has seen a jump in the sales of pet products, particularly for daily goods like food, snacks, litter and dog diapers, since pets cannot go out as often either.

Because many consumers can’t go to restaurants, Alibaba said users are living vicariously by requesting hosts eat their favorite items at popular hotpot chains, with these streams attracting tens of thousands of viewers. Consumers are also cooking more at home, so chefs are teaching viewers how to make popular dishes via livestreams.

Similarly, JD said sales of kitchenware have grown significantly. Baking tools have seen the biggest boost with sales up 332% compared to the same period last year. What’s more, as consumers return to work, many are deciding to bring their own meals to avoid cross-contamination and, as a result, orders of lunch containers have increased 340% year-on-year.

Other consumers are looking to “create fun, thematic looks” with surgical masks. Alibaba said one livestream on the topic attracted 8.2 million viewers—and because it focused on upper parts of the face, Alibaba saw sales of eyeshadow palettes increase 150% month-over-month.

JD said sales of hair clippers are up 4.5 times over the same period last year as consumers seek to cut their hair at home. But they don’t have to wing it: Since many hair salons remain closed, Alibaba said Taobao Live has streamed at-home haircut tutorials with professional hairdressers, as well as stylists from brands like Panasonic, Philips and Dyson.

Meanwhile, “looking slim” has become the fastest-growing phrase on Taobao as restless consumers seek ways to stay fit at home. Celebrity athletes have responded by acting as workout instructors in livestreams, and sales of exercise equipment are up sharply, along with sales of accessories for Nintendo’s fitness game Ring Fit Adventure, Alibaba said. JD has seen similar interest in exercise equipment like rowing machines (up 141%) and yoga mats (142%).

Nearly 10 million visitors have taken the opportunity to virtually tour eight museums, including the National Museum of China and the Gansu Museum. Outside of China, travel influencers from 30 countries are showcasing destinations in over 100 livestreams a day, such as restaurants in Amsterdam, beaches in the Philippines and oil paintings in Russia.

A spokesperson for JD didn’t have specific numbers, but said the number of individuals in self-imposed quarantine in China is “certainly significant.”

“People are extremely cautious, and we have the benefit of living in fortunate times where we can literally stay at home if we like and live quite well with China’s modern retail scenarios,” he said. “I personally like to go out and take walks, etc. and more and more people are doing this, but always with masks on. And always maintaining comfortable distance.”


@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.
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