Top Chinese Livestreamer Losing Steam Shows Consumers’ Fragility

 Look no further than China’s biggest livestreamer for a snapshot of the country’s flagging consumption outlook. 

Li Jiaqi, known as ‘Lipstick King’ for his prowess in selling cosmetics, recorded sales of 9.5 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) on Oct. 24, the first day of the annual Singles’ Day shopping festival that ended on Saturday, according to a Southern Metropolis Daily report, which didn’t say where it got the information. That’s down from last year’s first-day tally of 21.5 billion yuan, it said.

Separately, Caixin said Li’s sales of beauty products fell 38% during the first day of the festival. His share of total sales during the consumer bonanza shrank to about a quarter this year from one-third last year, according to a Securities Daily report.

The weaker performance from one of China’s best salesmen shows the challenges in getting consumers to open their wallets. Already grappling with economic turbulence from a property market crisis to elevated youth unemployment, deflationary pressures are adding to concerns about the growth trajectory for the world’s second-biggest economy.

Historically used as a barometer for Chinese consumer sentiment, the performance of the annual bargains extravaganza, built around the Nov. 11 event that Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. popularized over a decade ago, has become much harder to interpret after firms stopped providing precise sales figures during the Covid era. 

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Two key e-commerce platforms operated by Alibaba and Inc. likely managed 1% to 3% growth in gross merchandise value over the three- to four-week period leading up to Nov. 11, when merchants embarked on their discounting spree, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimated. 

Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall business said it recorded positive year-on-year growth in gross merchandise value, order numbers and participating merchants compared with last year.

On top of the weakening macro environment, Li’s sales were potentially hurt by recent impropriety. In September, he was the subject of social media criticism after telling a woman who complained about the price of an eyebrow pencil during one of his livestreams that she didn’t work hard enough.

Once darlings of retail brands, top livestreamers are losing their attractiveness after a series of scandals, including tax evasion. That’s seen global retail giants like Nike Inc. and L’Oreal SA, as well as local labels including Anta Sports Products Ltd. invest in their own company-run livestreaming pages on platforms like Taobao.

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