Jessica Jin
Jessica is Mintel's Beauty and Personal Care Category Director based in the Shanghai office. As part of the China Reports team, she is responsible for analysing and providing insights on China's beauty and personal care market and consumers.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, consumers have had to stay at home for a long time. Offline store sales almost decreased to zero and brands have had to promote their product online. Live stream has actually become one of the key drivers for growth for e-commerce before the COVID-19 outbreak and has been witnessing fast development during the pandemic. On one hand, live streaming has become an important part of customers purchasing decisions; on another hand, COVID-19 has helped upgrade the live streaming content from sales at discount to newly emerged marketing channels focusing more on experience and content.

Live streaming becomes a new digital battlefield

Live streaming is actually very unique trend in China. In most western countries, live streaming most focus on the gaming and entertainment industry while in China, it has become a channel for consumers to explore product trends, receive product information, especially in the beauty industry. According to Mintel research, about 14% of customers said live streaming or short-video platforms are the first choice when purchasing beauty and personal care products. The reason is that brands have to find innovative ways to engage with potential customers who are already overwhelmed by digital marketing information from various channels. Live streaming is more vivid than texts, photos, or videos; it can deliver more diverse messages, more engagement, and entertaining for customers. This echoes very well with the retailtainment request from the younger generation. When customers go online for live streaming, they forge a community of similar needs and interests. The interaction between customers and KOL, increase dramatically the sense of involvement.

Generally speaking, customers are quite positive about live streaming since the experience is quite “pleasant and valuable”. 47% of surveyed customers who have bought beauty and personal care products via live streaming channels say that “I bought what I really need”.

Not exclusive to KOL

In the past year, the success of a few influential key opinion leader (KOL) attributes to the booming of live streaming, the key is still to leverage the influence of KOL. However, during the COVID-19 outbreak, brands themselves become the main force of live streaming, from beauty consultants, makeup artists, to cosmetics store owners, they all go online and start doing live streaming to sell products. Partnership with KOL is more focused on increasing brand awareness, driving traffic, or increasing sales. During COVID-19, it is more important for a brand to maintain normal operation, keep communication with customers, which could not be done only by 1 or 2 times live streaming with KOL. On the contrary, sales assistants could keep and intensify their engagement and communications with potential customers. According to Mintel research, cosmetics store staff are as influential as the beauty industry KOL in terms of converting sales.

In addition to sales assistant, we see different people stand in front of the camera. For instance, the Chinese local cosmetics brand Linqingxuan had its founder did a Taobao live streaming during the COVID-19 and was very well received by customers. Live streaming is not exclusive to KOL any more, we see daily live streaming of offline stores, founder as an endorsement in live streaming, it has become a key touchpoint for the brand to serve customers with different requests. Even after COVID-19, we think live streaming will continue to exist and prosper, or even become the first choice for some consumers in the near future. Brands should explore more innovation and the possibility of leveraging live streaming.

Change from discount- and promotion-focused sale, to a newly emerging marketing channel centered on content and experience

Previously the live streaming was dominated by discounts or sales promotion, customers mainly received information about product and discount. Mintel research shows that live streaming “provides more giveaways, more detailed product introduction at better price” than official flag online store, but “still not win trust from customers in terms of quality guarantee, after-sales service and convenience”.

The outbreak of COVID-19 served as a catalyst for live streaming to transform from sales only to sales plus marketing tool. During the pandemic, brands do a large amount of marketing leveraging the interaction and entertainment features of live streaming to bring a better experience to their customers. Sports brands provides exercise tips, restaurants provide cooking live streaming class and some brands even launch new products online. MAC even did a talent show on Taobao live streaming platform to recruit makeup artists.

Live streaming will continue to serve as an important growth driver for e-commerce, customers require more than discounts; the content and experience in live streaming will become more important, both KOL and brand should get ready for this transformation.