- I have always been a fan of the discounts I get on China's Singles' Day shopping festival, the equivalent of America's Black Friday.
- But this year, I'm swearing off Alibaba's livestreams on its Taobao Live platform.
- These livestreams can be entertaining and informative, but they're also exhausting to watch.
For years, I've been delaying purchases from makeup to stationery and waiting to get them during China's Singles' Day sales.
Singles' Day, also known as "Double 11," is on November 11, and it's the country's biggest shopping season. It's even become an unofficial holiday. Last year, shoppers on Taobao spent $115 billion in sales on Singles Day. This dwarfs the $4.8 billion in sales that Amazon clocked from through Cyber Monday last year.
Singles' Day sales this year are also expected to be a landmark event. So many shoppers flocked to the app during its pre-sale period on October 20 that the app crashed for around an hour.
While I'll still be checking off items on my shopping list on Singles' Day, there's one thing I won't be doing: watching livestreams on Alibaba's Taobao Live, an online e-commerce platform that is part of the company's Taobao app. Alibaba did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment for this story.
How Singles' Day deals and livestreams work
Unlike Amazon, Alibaba has integrated a videoplatform into its selling process. Livestreamers turn on broadcasts and hawk their wares in shifts throughout the Singles' Day sales. During the streams, models interact with their viewers, demonstrating how makeup and skincare products work, trying on outfits, and answering questions posed to them via the live chat.
To keep viewers hooked throughout the 24-hour livestreams, Taobao Live has deals with crazy-low prices on limited quantities. Viewers can "grab" cash vouchers that drop at unannounced times, and they get the chance to win prizes ranging from free items to an online store footing your entire shopping bill.
And then there are the fan rankings. The more hours of the livestream you watch, the higher your fan rankings. The higher your fan ranking, the better the deals. So if you're looking to get the best price on an item, the Taobao livestreams are the place to be, particularly if you're willing to put in the hours to get your fan ranking up.
Some livestreamers have moved billions of dollars in goods just from their Singles' Day broadcasts. China's Lipstick King Austin Li sold $1.7 billion in goods in just 12 hours during pre-sales for this year's Singles' Day. Another top livestreamer, Viya, sold about $1.25 billion worth of goods during a 14-hour streaming marathon.
Why I'm opting out of Singles' Day livestreams this year
This year, I won't be watching Li's livestreams — or any other livestreams. The streams are loud, exciting, and colorful. They also provide an informative preview if you can't make up your mind on what shade of lipstick to get or which handbag to pick up.
But I've found that keeping up with livestreams on Taobao Live is an anxiety-inducing and exhausting experience that takes the joy out of shopping. It's frustrating to see products being snapped up in a second after waiting for them for an entire hour, particularly when only 10 to 20 pieces are available for the tens of thousands of viewers tuning in.
Lipstick King Austin Li has famously used a gong to "wake shoppers up" to signal a good deal. It's gimmicky and entertaining — but other streamers have since co-opted similar selling techniques, and it's jarring when done too often. In short, it just makes the shopping experience annoying.
Designed for excess
Due to the nature of some streams, shoppers may also find themselves buying way more than they expected. Consider makeup as one example.
While the average price on cosmetics packages can be slashed below their usual retail prices, those prices often do not apply until you hit a minimum spend at each online store. Last year, I ended up buying items like makeup brushes, anime fan goods, and scrapbooking kits that I had not initially planned on purchasing. Despite having a shopping list I swore I would stick to, I spent a few hundred dollars more than I had budgeted after makeup livestreams advertised "bundle deals," where you'd get exclusive, "11.11-only" products if you chocked up enough to meet the store's various spending thresholds. That's a mistake I don't plan on repeating.
What I might watch in 2021 is Alibaba's TMall gala concert on November 10, which is slated to feature a glittering cast of Chinese celebrities and a guest appearance from British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. But for now, I'll pass on the Singles' Day livestreams.
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