CBI Case Study: Kim Kardashian’s Lucrative Livestreaming Partnership

Kim Kardashian and Viya side-by-side.

Last week, America’s top influencer Kim Kardashian West collaborated with Alibaba’s Tmall to join forces with Viya, China’s most powerful livestreamer, a major step forward in a market the reality star had previously failed to make her mark in. The livestream was part of the big run-up to Alibaba’s November 11 Singles’ Day shopping extravaganza, and with Viya’s support, it took only a few minutes for Kardashian to sell out the stock of 15,000 bottles of her KKW-brand perfume. 

Kardashian appeared from the U.S., sitting with an Alibaba executive, and chatting with Viya as she conducted her own six-hour broadcast, sandwiched between segments promoting Godiva chocolates and salted eggs. 

While Kardashian may be the biggest influencer in the U.S., much of this success in China can be attributed to her partnership with Viya, who has nearly 10 million followers and has worked with thousands of brands to date — she sold nearly $50 million worth of goods on her channel in one day last month. The KKW Fragrance channel on Tmall reportedly had an audience of about 30,000 for Kardashian’s hour-long livestream, while Viya’s channel drew more than 12 million viewers over the course of her much longer broadcast. (Another official Tmall channel that carried the stream drew a reported 189,000 viewers).

This was the first time Kardashian appeared on Alibaba’s cross-border shopping platform Tmall Global, though not her first attempt at Chinese e-commerce. Last year she established a presence on the fashion-oriented Xiaohongshu, but the content lacked a localized focus and failed to resonate with Chinese consumers, drawing only around 200,000 followers to date. By working with Viya, Kardashian was able to tap into the Chinese influencer’s understanding of what domestic consumers seek out in the products they buy and her ability to explain the trend and lifestyle factors that make brands popular in overseas markets. 

Kardashian’s experience shows that, despite concerns that the U.S.-China trade war and spats over national sovereignty will lead to a decline in sales for U.S. brands, Chinese shoppers still have a huge appetite for them. A recent survey of Chinese consumers found that 78% of respondents said they were less likely to purchase products from American brands, with more than half citing patriotism as the reason, but in practice it appears that Chinese shoppers can still be persuaded to buy American. Among the techniques that livestreamers successfully deploy to boost sales are discounts and gift offers, exclusive product collaborations, limited edition goods, and testimonials from celebrities and influencers.

The rise of livestreaming has been key driver in boosting sales for this year’s Singles’ Day. The combination of e-commerce, entertainment and social media has huge momentum in China, which will be enhanced by Alibaba’s plans to create an “influencer incubator” for livestreamers with the strongest sales potential. Under the new initiative, the e-commerce giant will offer training and support for 2,000 top influencers through a network called the Tmall Global Influencer Ecosystem. So far 500 participants from 10 countries have joined, and they attended a launch event last Wednesday that included Kardashian’s livestream as part of the festivities.  

“We want to build a long-term, Chinese, consumer-facing group of lifestyle consultants, opinion leaders who might share the same lifestyle preferences as consumers and can share with them what they might also like, like introducing natural and organic food to the many consumers who love these kinds of product,” Tmall Import and Export General Manager Alvin Liu said at the event. 

In addition, Tmall Global has launched a “Walk of Fame” program to connect foreign brand-founding celebrities such as Rihanna and Miranda Kerr with Chinese influencers for livestreaming collaborations following the Kardashian-Viya model. 

According to a report by Deloitte, the number of products purchased through livestreaming on Tmall Global soared 430% year-over-year in 2019 to 2.36 million from 445,000, with a total value of RMB 470 million ($67.2 million). 

“Livestreaming used to be just one option for brands looking to reach Chinese consumers in new and engaging ways,” Liu said. “But now, because it has become so integral to how people shop here, it’s incredibly important for any brand that wants to be successful in this market.”