More than a tenth of China tuned in on Tuesday night to watch a man sell stuff for seven hours.
On Tuesday night, over 150 million people—that’s more than a tenth of China’s population—tuned into the shopping app Taobao Live to watch a man sell lipstick for seven hours.
But it wasn’t just lipstick. There was also face cream, clothes, and a giveaway involving Hermes bags and the soon-to-be-released iPhone 12.
The event was a promotion for Singles’ Day, which has eclipsed Black Friday as the world’s biggest shopping holiday.
What is Singles’ Day?
Held on Nov. 11, Singles’ Day is considered the biggest consumer holiday in the world, dwarfing Black Friday and Boxing Day in terms of sales.
The holiday started as a joke in the 1990s among single university students who wanted to celebrate (or commiserate over) their relationship status. Students organized bachelor parties, which soon morphed into blind date parties.
Nov. 11 was chosen because the shorthand, 11/11, resembled four single sticks.
Singles’ Day took a commercial turn in 2009, when Alibaba, China’s biggest online shopping site, latched onto the university trend and held its first Singles’ Day sale as a promotional campaign. (Alibaba is the owner of Goldthread’s parent company, the South China Morning Post.)
The event has morphed into the world’s biggest shopping holiday, with other companies in China holding sales. Last year, consumers spent over $30 billion on Singles’ Day.
Tuesday’s livestream was one in a series of promotional events leading up to the big day.
The salesman was Li Jiaqi, a fast-talking 28-year-old online celebrity with a reputation for being able to sell anything (he once cleared a stock of 15,000 lipsticks in just five minutes).
His daily livestreams, which are broadcast every evening except Sunday, are regularly watched by tens of millions, who rush to nab a limited supply of products at discounted prices.
Our content director Daisy, who’s watched a few of his broadcasts, says people trust him because he gives very pointed critiques and knows his audience.
“He might say this lipstick works better with this specific skin tone,” she says. “I had to stop myself from buying something.”
Li is part of a growing field of online celebrities who make a living by selling products to Chinese consumers through live broadcasts.
They usually go on at night, after people have gotten off work, and run late into the evening, often past midnight.
And they have to talk nonstop, lest people tune out or go to bed. (See if you can get through all of last night’s broadcast.)
Livestreaming might remind some people of the infomercials of the early 2000s (remember Vince Offer and ShamWow?) but rebooted for the mobile age.
In China, it’s already a multimillion-dollar industry—there are even schools that train livestreamers. Li is reportedly worth up to $5 million because of his livestreaming activities, and this year’s Singles’ Day broadcasts show he has no signs of stopping.
This quick take was originally published in the Goldthread newsletter. To stay on top of the latest China trends, subscribe here.