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When Lionel Messi appeared on Alibaba’s Taobao Live platform this year, 5.3mn viewers joined the livestream to watch him chat. But it is not just football superstars that attract such crowds in China. Top streamers who sell products via live video attract a huge following. The success of livestream commerce is overhauling the retail sector.

Livestreams are similar to home TV shopping programmes. The difference is that people can ask questions about the products, in much the same way as they could in a physical store. Streamers sell everything from fresh produce to luxury handbags, while entertaining and engaging viewers.

Livestreaming has caught on in other parts of Asia too. In Indonesia, the market share of TikTok’s live commerce business overtook Alibaba’s ecommerce platform in the past year. The threat posed by the new sector to traditional retail stores prompted the Indonesian government to introduce a nationwide ecommerce ban on these social media platforms. TikTok shut down its ecommerce shop in the country this week.

Traditional ecommerce is struggling to hold on to its shoppers. The gross merchandise value — the total value of merchandise sold on a platform — for Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms which include Taobao and Tmall fell 7 per cent last year. Meanwhile, the same figure at streaming platform Douyin, owned by TikTok parent ByteDance, increased more than three-quarters.

Shares of Alibaba are down 30 per cent from their January peak.’s have halved. The moves reflect concerns about slowing growth and the accelerating shift of shoppers to streaming platforms. TikTok rivals including Kuaishou are growing at a similar pace. Alibaba will have to keep spending up.

Moreover, it will have to contend with other traditional ecommerce giants that are also belatedly splurging on livestreaming expansion. The market’s steady pace of growth since 2019 suggests this will prove a lasting trend.

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