A model engages with customers through livestreaming at a cloth market in Zhuzhou, Central China's Hunan province, on Monday. (Photo: Xinhua)
Stores embrace livestreaming, other methods to keep businesses running
Li Jing has been selling Italian furniture in Beijing for 11 years.
Recently, Li became a livestream anchor on Douyin, a videosharing site, as she introduced sofas online.
"I didn't even have a Douyin account until three days ago," said Li, a brand manager of Italian furniture brand Natuzzi Editions, in mid-February.
But with stores in Beijing closed and factories expecting orders to resume work because of the novel coronavirus epidemic, Li and her colleagues at the sales frontline decided to influence their brands and products online for the first time.
"We don't want to give up anyone during this difficult time. We have to make some efforts to keep things going," said Li.
The good news is their store opened on Feb 22 where they can display and explain more clearly to potential customers online.
Feng Haiguang, a veteran apparel saleswoman at Shuang'an Department Store in Beijing, now works full time on her mobile phone.
Posting winter collections with promotional prices, answering questions from customers, offering size and color advice, Feng has transformed herself into an online sales maven in just one month since the beginning of the Spring Festival holiday on Jan 24.
Once or twice a week, Feng would showcase the latest styles of clothes at the store she works for on Yizhibo, a livestreaming platform.
"Few customers came to our stores because of the epidemic," said Feng, who works for EP Yangying, a high-end women's apparel brand in Shuang'an, which is still open.
She said nearly 90 percent of their businesses have been generated from their engagement online. She and her colleagues post photos on a daily basis or livestream to show off the clothes twice a week.
Prior to the epidemic, EP Yangying's stores have encouraged sales personnel to get engaged with consumers online. Online sales makes up about 20 to 30 percent of their total sales.
"We are not turning into online work overnight. We have a good foundation and understanding of online engagement and marketing skills. So we handle the current situation pretty well," said Feng.
She said the store was able to reach a relatively nice sales performance in February thanks to their timely transition from physical stores to online marketing.
Brick-and-mortar department stores and shopping malls have seen a decline in visitors due to the epidemic. They have gradually transitioned to livestreaming and other online methods, inviting customers to scan a brand's online code to get into the online shopping group where the brand will introduce their products or livestream them in the store.
For example, Shanghai Xintiandi, a cultural and social destination in the city, has further developed its online retail and catering platform that can reach its 400,000 members.
Combining brands' own memberships and private domain traffic of individual retail staff, the shopping destination is hoping to reach more neighborhoods and nearby population to provide services and boost business for its tenants.
Xintiandi has encouraged customers to visit the online mini-program of the brands in the shopping center.
A research report by China Chain Store & Franchise Association said that among its 1,100 members of chain shopping malls, four out of 10 interviewed suspended their businesses due to lack of visitors from Feb 5-16. Visitor footfalls dipped 70 to 80 percent, and revenue dropped 80 percent on average.
Small-and medium-sized shopping centers are more flexible in operations and the impact on them was lower. However, the situation is worse for big players. Of 323 shopping centers under Wanda Group, more than 90 in key cities are closed or partly shuttered.
Suning Plaza shut about 80 percent of their 40 stores, keeping the supermarkets to maintain supplies of daily necessities. It saw visitor footfalls down 70 percent during this year's Spring Festival holiday (Jan 24-Feb 2).
Separately, shopping mall landlords have reduced or eliminated rents for their tenants. More than half of the shopping malls have eliminated rents for more than 15 days and the situation is expected to continue.
The report found that consumers are cautious in visiting public places and the confidence to consume is weak. This will affect visitor numbers and revenue for offline shopping centers for a long time.
Despite the self-help efforts among brands, there is likely a risk of delaying rents or exiting the malls altogether, said CCFA.
The cultivation of online shopping among consumers during the outbreak will have a further negative impact on offline shopping even after the epidemic is placed under control.
Declines in rent and an increase in vacancies will trigger an "epidemic" for the shopping mall industry, the report warned.
The CCFA's report concluded though that opportunities will rise during the epidemic. It suggests the benefits of the link between consumers and shopping centers online.
Shopping centers that host supermarkets for daily necessity supplies will continue to play a big role in offering convenience and friendly shopping services among local residents, the report said.