Live-streaming e-commerce is the fastest-growing area of China’s internet, but buyer’s remorse is common

a close up of a motorcycle mirror: The online retail market is one of the few sectors that has not suffered from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Photo: EPA-EFE

The online retail market is one of the few sectors that has not suffered from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Photo: EPA-EFE

Live-streaming to sell products is the fastest-growing internet application in China this year, with 309 million users in June – about a third of the country’s internet population – but nearly half of the shoppers who buy through these channels are unhappy with their purchases, according to a new report.

The report by government-affiliated China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA) was based on several sources, including interviews with more than 3,000 users who had watched video content online in the last half a year, surveys of industry experts and other research.

Around 15.7 per cent of users surveyed said they were convinced solely by live-streaming shows or online videos to buy goods and over half of these have spent more than 500 yuan (US$74) on their purchases, according to the report released on Monday.

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Impulse buying among live stream viewers was the highest in the daily necessity and food and beverage categories, the report said, adding that only 51.5 per cent of those that had bought products through online live streams were satisfied with the goods they received.

Live-streamed shopping campaigns have been credited with helping China’s retail sector recover in the past few months as the domestic economy gradually reopens in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. There were over 10 million e-commerce live-streaming sessions in China attracting more than 50 billion views in just the first half of the year, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce.

E-commerce, live-streaming are bright spots in China’s retail scene

But the growing popularity of such campaigns has also come with a surge of complaints about fake or damaged goods, missing deliveries or lack of after-sales service.

Still, CNSA, a national association which focuses on the online video and audio industry, predicted that the short video sector and live-streaming will be the main drivers of the industry’s future growth.

The short video segment – dominated by TikTok’s mainland Chinese version Douyin and Tencent Holdings-backed Kuaishou – accounted for 29 per cent of China’s 454 billion yuan online video and audio market as of 2019 followed by live-streaming with 19 per cent, the report said.

China had 818 million short video users who spent an average of 110 minutes every day on apps such as Douyin and Kuaishou as of June, according to the report.

The format has also been a major draw for new internet users in the country, with one in six new internet users surveyed saying their first online experiences were with short videos, the report said.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (, the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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