Live-streaming e-commerce still a tough business for local SME merchants – Sector rep

Live streaming can be a useful tool to increase awareness of local products in the mainland but SME merchants should really consider if the time and cost it will take to enter the market will be worthy, the Director-General of the Macau Live-streaming Association told Macau News Agency.

China’s livestream e-commerce industry has continued to grow as the pandemic forced more businesses into the online world, with statistics by iiMedia Research showing a market that reached almost RMB961 billion (US$148.4 million) as retail sales retreated last year.

Online live streaming videos can last for up to 4 or 5 hours with personalities promoting different products and brands to their audience which can purchase the product on display in real-time.

Local social media personalities like José Rodrigues Chan – a well-known emcee in Macau – have attempted to tap into the live stream market for personalities selling products in real-time on platforms such as Taobao, Douyin, WeChat, and Meipai.

Using the slow down in the event industry to dip into this new area, Chan helped found the association last September as a way to help promote live streaming sales among local merchants and residents.

Macau Live now has an office in Zhongshan of the nearby Guangdong province, where Mr. Rodrigues and his other partners will undertake several live shows a week on Taobao to promote and sell products from food souvenirs to cultural creative goods from Macau brands and companies.

“We have eight Macau live streamers working in Taobao at the moment and we are selling different kinds of products […] Many brands in China hire personalities as normal employees and create a room for live streaming, which receive a fixed income and then receive a commission,” Fernandes said in a seminar held today (Wednesday) by the France Macau Chamber of Commerce.

“I try to introduce the viewers why I think the product might be good for them. It’s a totally different way of selling things. It is a bit more popular in Taiwan because they have so many celebrities but Hong Kong and Macau still need some time to shift consumer behaviours from online shopping to live streaming shopping”.

Just Taobao can see up to 20 or 30 million people watch its commerce live streams, with hundreds of live streamers fighting for their attention, so it can be hard for local personalities to carve their own audience.

Last year Chinese multinational travel platform Trip.com held a live streaming session to promote and sell the services and tourism products offered by Sands China, while this year’s MIF provided live streaming booths for local and mainland KOLs and social media personalities to promote Macau products, with Fernandes involved in both initiatives.

The Labour Affairs Bureau and the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) has also carried a special training programme for residents searching to become local KOL and live stream celebrities, in the hopes merchants in the SAR can reach more clients in the current pandemic economic climate.

However, the emcee warned local SMEs that hurdles remain to enter the mainland market, with transport and scalability still some of the more challenging obstacles.

Jose Chan during the Sands promotional campaign with Trip.com

“Customs has to thoroughly check everything coming from outside mainland China and if they fulfil all the requirements of the Chinese government, with taxes levied on many of the products, alcohol or domestic products,” he noted.

“So if you really want to sell products in Mainland China we don’t have an advantage in the price because of the taxes. If there are cheaper alternatives within Mainland China why buy Macau products. This is one thing.

Fernandes also warned that usually, products sold on mainland online live streaming can sell in considerable quantities during a live stream show, with viewers can maybe buy 10,000 to 20,000 items.

“I don’t think a small company in Macau can prepare this quantity for such one live show. So maybe those live stream performers won’t accept some businesses that can only sell like 100 items if they can sell 10,000 in just 5 minutes,” he added.

The live streamer also indicated that if Macau merchants want to reach the mainland market they will likely have to rearrange their design and market strategy to fit the Chinese market.

“In the past 5 to 10 years very few companies did that but now realised they want to do it but they have done no preparations. It is actually easier for them to sell outside mainland China,” he notes.

“If you want to readjust your product to the Chinese market that is fine but they have to be willing to spend money to do the readjustments. But I don’t think many SMEs are willing to do that. They can try to enter the market but the outcome might not be what they expect”

Exploring overseas markets with different regulations or joining product trade shows in the mainland were considered by Fernandes as maybe more viable lanes for Macau products to tap into different clienteles.

“The Macau government has tried to hold product fairs in different parts of China and that could be a very good start for SMEs to get a better picture of how the customers are. You can talk to the expo and get more info but if you want to take some time and I don’t think they are that well prepared for that”.