Biz / Tech

What to buy? Short videos influence young Chinese consumers

Consumers in China who once compared products and prices by shopping in malls or supermarkets are now using online sites and mobile apps to make purchase decisions.
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A video of DIY dishes in the restaurant Haidilao Hotpot gets 301,000 likes on Douyin platform. 

Consumers in China who once compared products and prices by shopping in malls or supermarkets are now using online sites and mobile apps to make purchase decisions.

The young generation, in particular, is hooked on Tik Tok, also known as Douyin. It is China’s most popular short video platform, where 15-second testimonials about products and services are uploaded.

My friend Zhang Liying, who was born in 1992 and works as a marketing staffer of a hotel group, bought a makeup brush and a skin whitener from Alibaba’s Tmall.com after watching several short videos on Douyin.

“I watched videos uploaded by users on Douyin describing the two products I wanted to buy and how to use them,” she said. “It was very useful to me. I placed the order right after watching the video clips and received my package two days later. The products are good and the whole process convenient. It exceeded my expectations,” Zhang said.

In fact, it’s so easy that consumers can click links inserted in the video clips to go to e-commerce sites to buy products.

Douyin was launched in September 2016 by a Beijing-based software company called Bytedance. It has attracted large numbers of young people and goes beyond mere product testimonials, covering an array of topics such as singing and dancing, food, beauty and travel.

The short video platform claimed it had 150 million daily active users in China by the end of June, mostly in the nation’s largest cities. More than 40 percent of users are aged between 24 and 30 years old.

Young people use their smartphone cameras to record their daily doings and upload their most precious moments on Douyin. With the rapid increase of users, companies see the platform as an excellent opportunity to sell products and promote themselves.

Alipay, Xiaomi, IKEA, BMW and other firms have set up official accounts to upload short videos on about their products and corporate profiles on Douyin.

China’s short video industry, led by players such as Douyin and Kuaishou, has about 202 million users nationwide. That figure is expected to hit 512 million by 2020, according to researcher China Insights.

Douyin and Kuaishou are two largest short video platforms, followed by players that include Meitu’s Meipai and Weibo-backed Miaopai.

Different targets

The biggest difference between Douyin and chief rival Kuaishou lies in the targeted consumer group. Kuaishou, founded in 2011 and backed by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, is aimed at consumers in rural areas and smaller cities. Most of Douyin’s users live in first- and second-tier cities.

Industry insiders said short video platforms generate income mainly through advertising revenue.

People, who were born in the 1990s or later, like the short-video format because it’s new and reflects their fast-paced lifestyle, enabling them to make quick decisions. They seek advice and recommendations from others on the platform, and the digital word-of-mouth format is highly successful in steering their purchase decisions.

A search on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao with the keyword Douyin reveals one supplier sells 370,000 bottles of skin whitening spray a month, while another online vendor sells more than 10,000 eye shadows in a month.

Some users upload videos of do-it-yourself combinations they make at a Chinese restaurant chain called Haidilao Hotpot, such as stuffing a raw egg and shrimp paste into a tofu ball and then simmering it in the broth. The videos spark discussions among netizens. More than 41,000 people uploaded videos under the topic of Haidilao on Douyin.

“The video of DIY dishes not only brings high online exposure for Haidilao, but also attracts many people to the restaurants,” according to the China Social Media Landscape 2018 Whitepaper from Kantar Media CIC. “Some Haidilao staff even inform diners about popular DIY dishes when they are in a restaurant.”

Jackie Jin, head of research at Kantar Media CIC, said Douyin’s entertaining content creates the interest that keeps users watching videos on their mobile apps. Douyin’s algorithm-based information stream distributes different types of videos to different consumer groups, she said. This targeting makes the videos even more appealing since they address the special preferences of a group of consumers.

“China’s young people love to express themselves and interact with others,” said Li Meng, a brand manager of a company selling mother and child products. “Some brands have made the mistake of using old marketing concepts to upload videos. That just doesn’t work.”

Short video platforms such as Douyin need to create new content and keep enhancing the user experience, Jin added. Attention spans can be short and interest fickle when a new platform comes along to challenge the prevailing leaders.


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