China’s top e-commerce influencer, ‘Lipstick King’ Austin Li Jiaqi, abruptly ends Taobao show in major live-streaming snafu

Li’s show on Taobao Live, the live-streaming platform for merchants on Alibaba Group Holding‘s Taobao Marketplace, suddenly stopped its feed just past 9pm – the prime time for sales on the mainland – to leave millions of fans watching online clueless about what happened. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

He issued a short notice at 9:26pm through Chinese microblogging service Weibo, saying that a team in the back office was sorting out the technical error. He asked his audience to “wait for moment”, but two hours later he again posted on Weibo to tell them that the show cannot proceed owing to a “malfunction in back office equipment”.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

That snafu has put pressure on Li, who has more than 64 million followers, to make up for the amount of sales lost on Friday via his next live-streamed shows as part of the midyear 618 retail gala, which is the country’s second-biggest shopping extravaganza after Singles’ Day.

Li’s marketing agency, MeiOne, did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Saturday.

Taobao, China’s biggest online shopping platform, had experienced a 20-minute system breakdown in October last year, as it kicked off presales for Singles’ Day in November. Taobao attributed that system crash, which was fixed within 20 minutes, to heavy traffic generated by “overenthusiastic” consumers.

The stakes are high for Li, who turns 30 on June 7, because he has become the most prominent face of China’s booming live-streaming e-commerce sector.

Popular one-name celebrity influencer Viya, whose real name is Huang Wei, went from being the country’s most bankable live-streaming e-commerce star to a virtual pariah overnight after authorities in the eastern city of Hangzhou slapped her with a record 1.34 billion yuan (US$201 million) fine for tax evasion last December.

Known as China’s “Lipstick King”, Li once sold 15,000 lipsticks in just five minutes on Taobao’s live-streaming platform.

Li is now also recognised as a major asset for Alibaba after he sold US$1.9 billion worth of goods on the first day of presales leading up to Singles’ Day last November. His shows have become key to attracting more online shoppers from Taobao competitors such as ByteDance-owned Douyin, the Chinese version of hit short video platform TikTok.

Still, Li has also experienced some negative publicity. A Zhejiang consumer rights watchdog last December named and shamed Li and other well-known live-streamers for certain violations. The Zhejiang Consumer Council said Li’s infraction was for selling products that were incorrectly labelled. Other streamers were denounced for exaggerated sales pitches and obscene gestures, among other violations.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.