Cross-border livestream commerce boosts China’s foreign trade

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China’s cross-border e-commerce imports and exports reached 2.38 trillion yuan ($331.64 billion) in 2023, with a year-on-year growth of 15.6 percent. In particular, exports increased 19.6 percent from a year ago to 1.83 trillion yuan. 

Digital foreign trade forms, such as cross-border livestream commerce are becoming important channels for foreign trade companies to obtain orders and expand their brands internationally.

“We obtained inquiries from over 9,000 overseas buyers via livestream in two months,” said Wu Xinhe, marketing director of Maxevis, a tech firm based in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong province.

Wu’s company sells technology products for children such as smart water bottles. Its major overseas clients are in Europe, North America, and South America. 

During the Spring Festival holiday last year, the company decided to try cross-border livestream commerce on the international website of Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant. To quickly capture the interest of overseas customers, Wu and the livestream team put a lot of effort into highlighting the product’s features and selecting the target customers. 

As a result, they acquired hundreds of new customers. “This growth is at least twice as fast as before,” Wu said.

Maxevis is a vivid example of Chinese foreign trade companies in the exploration of cross-border livestream commerce. Statistics show that there are currently 645,000 companies nationwide with actual import and export performance, of which over 100,000 are engaged in cross-border e-commerce.

Nowadays, “cross-border e-commerce” and “livestream” have become buzzwords among foreign trade companies. Bukrein, an import and export company based in Ningbo, east China’s Zhejiang province, has specifically equipped itself with a 5G livestream vehicle. The company’s new customers gained from livestream have doubled each year.

Shanghai APCOM Compressor Machine Co., Ltd. has transformed its previous 3,000-square meter showroom, which was used to receive overseas clients, into a livestream studio. Every salesperson in the company has learned how to livestream. 

The company has installed dozens of high-definition cameras in its factory, allowing overseas clients to watch the factory and place orders in real-time whenever needed. The overall returns greatly outweigh the outlay.

The rapid development of cross-border livestream is largely attributed to the continuous promotion by Chinese e-commerce platforms. According to data from Alibaba’s international website, the number of overseas buyers watching cross-border livestream has increased by 127 percent year-on-year since 2023, bringing a 156 percent growth in business opportunities for foreign trade merchants.

Statistics from Chinese online retailer giant PDD showed that since the launch of its Temu platform in September 2022, it has expanded its business to over 40 countries across five continents, allowing many Chinese manufacturers to sell their products to European and U.S. markets through cross-border livestream commerce.

A report released by the National Academy of Economic Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said that livestream has become a new trend in generating data traffic both in China and abroad. Livestream commerce provides an interactive shopping experience that replicates the offline face-to-face shopping model. Some cross-border e-commerce entities have keenly targeted this new direction for “going global” in marketing their brands.

“The popularity of cross-border livestream commerce in China is mainly due to the country’s strong supply chain, high-quality products, responsiveness to market demand, and attractiveness to consumers. These advantages are well demonstrated through cross-border livestream,” said Pan Helin, a researcher with the International Business School, Zhejiang University.

He pointed out that the developed ecosystem of the livestream e-commerce industry in China provides a strong talent pool for cross-border livestream commerce to expand internationally.

With the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence and algorithmic recommendations, the models of foreign trade livestream commerce are changing.

“In the past, we relied on hosts working around the clock to sell products via livestream. Now, we only need a staff member to manage the ‘digital host,'” said Wu. In December last year, Wu’s company started experimenting with a digital host for livestream. This not only effectively reduced labor costs but also increased the duration of livestream. 

The digital host was an “all-around performer.” It could accurately remember various products’ features and prices, and was proficient in many languages. Through training, it could automatically answer questions based on keywords mentioned by users or play relevant short videos to explain the details and functions of products.

E-commerce platforms are also innovating in terms of livestream models and operational methods. Alibaba’s international website has introduced many new technologies this year. For example, they have implemented a “time compass” feature to help foreign trade companies find the most suitable time slots for livestream. They have also added voice-to-subtitle and translation functions for livestream, which can convert the sellers’ voices into real-time subtitles.



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