China’s e-commerce slows down as celebrities turn to Xiaohongshu for ‘quiet selling’

“The reason why you can’t use it now is not because you are not worthy, but because you haven’t discovered your greatest talent yet.”

That’s what Taiwanese singer Annie Yi said as she introduced expensive skincare products in a recent livestream. Instead of justifying the thousand-plus yuan prices by emphasizing the scarcity of the ingredients — or worse, berating women for not having the financial means to afford the products, as Li Jiaqi did during his infamous livestream — she reminded viewers of their self-worth.

Quiet selling, which describes this slower-paced, storytelling-oriented style of livestreaming, has gained traction in China this year. The trend is taking off just as the country’s economic growth slows, consumers tighten their purse strings, and Gen Z shoppers seek respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Taking a refined approach, Yi’s debut livestream on Xiaohongshu was a hit. In the almost nine-hour long broadcast on September 6, the 55-year-old star attracted over 1 million viewers and achieved a turnover of nearly $6.8 million (50 million RMB), topping the platform’s livestream sales chart.

Annie Yi made her Xiaohongshu livestream debut on September 6. Photo: Xiaohongshu

Another case of “quiet selling”

The livestream was not the usual fast-paced peddling of products; rather, it felt like an intimate sharing session. Yi divulged some of the more personal details of her life, such as her turbulent childhood and how she supported her family after her father’s passing, along with some words of advice as she showcased the different items.

“Don’t change yourself. Create yourself,” she said to viewers. “Don’t empty yourself to love or be loved. All your efforts are to fill yourself up and enjoy your life.”

“Don’t change yourself. Create yourself,” Yi said to her viewers. “Don’t empty yourself to love or be loved. All your efforts are to fill yourself up and enjoy your life.”

Some netizens said that they felt “healed” after watching Yi’s livestream and were even moved to tears. “I feel that she is not selling something, but selling hope and longing. Every sentence she speaks touches my heart,” one netizen was reported as saying.

Earlier in May 2023, Hong Kong-born actress Teresa Cheung similarly hosted a livestream on Xiaohongshu that was praised for being gentle and relaxing, attracting over 1 million viewers and exceeding 50 million RMB in gross merchandise volume.

Cheung took her time introducing roughly 200 products — nearly six hours in fact — describing eyeshadow shades with Renaissance references, reading poetry, and addressing her viewers as “readers,” further cultivating a vibe of sophistication, culture, and learning.

Chinese-Canadian actress Teresa Cheung (left) and Chinese actress Dong Jie (right) take a calm, cultural approach to livestream e-commerce. Photo: Xiaohongshu

Meanwhile, Chinese actress Dong Jie hosted a zen-like livestream on Xiaohongshu on February 24, reaching 2.2 million viewers and generating $4.1 million (30 million RMB) in sales.

According to Jacques Roizen, Managing Director, China Consulting at Digital Luxury Group, Chinese consumers’ appetite for newness has driven their embrace of new brands, channels and formats, including quiet selling.

“We are entering a stage where Double 11 is in theory the most exciting online shopping festival but actually does not generate the kind of excitement it used to,” he says. “Consumers have integrated these mechanisms in their expectations set. So it makes sense that, by contrast, the more subtle and low-key ‘quiet selling’ is attracting consumers today.

“It also reflects a smarter and more mature consumer who is less interested in the speculative hunt for the best possible deal and focuses her attention on better understanding the brand universe, absorbing the storytelling, and making purchases that are less impulsive and more meaningful, especially in a challenging economic environment.”

Xiaohongshu steps up livestreaming business

The success of Yi’s live broadcast also highlights Xiaohongshu’s potential as a livestream e-commerce platform and the way it can carve a niche for itself in the crowded space.

Compared to Taobao Live, Douyin, and Kuaishou, Xiaohongshu is relatively new to the sector, only expanding into e-commerce livestreaming in 2020. Yet in the last few years, it has rapidly grown its livestream shopping business; in 2022, the number of livestreamers grew 337 percent year on year and the number of livestreaming sessions jumped 214 percent.

Although it lacks top anchors (Taobao Live has “Lipstick King” Li Jiaqi, for example), it does have a few advantages as a video-sharing platform. For starters, Xiaohongshu has roughly 270 million active daily users, many of which are young, female, and located in first- and second-tier cities. Moreover, it’s already a place where users share lifestyle content, making it conducive to these long-form livestreams.

“Xiaohongshu is the most authentic platform for consumers to find real peer reviews and recommendations, which is very aligned with a softer approach, like the one ‘quiet selling’ suggests,” Roizen says.

For luxury brands that want to leverage this trend, Roizen explains that “it’s about shifting from a sole focus of ‘why buy now’ to sharing their brand universe with far more storytelling, through hosts that have a real product category expertise.”

[Quiet selling is] about shifting from a sole focus of ‘why buy now’ to sharing their brand universe with far more storytelling, through hosts that have a real product category expertise.”

But not every celebrity or influencer can command a room for five, six, let alone nine hours. As such, it’s important to partner with KOLs that have the knowledge, popularity, and poise to pull off the feat.


Consumer Insights, Marketing