Hot Streaming Sales Boost Starbucks China

Live-streaming influencers in China
Viya is Taobao's top live streamer

International brands in China are tuning in to livestreaming KOLs as the most effective way to connect with audiences and drive sales.

Just how effective these partnerships are was shown last week when Starbucks teamed up with Taobao’s livestreaming internet celebrity Viya (薇娅) to shift more than 160,000 discount coffee coupons in a little over thirty minutes. 

The speedy sales bonanza took place during a week-long food and drink ecommerce promotion held by Taobao called Snack Festival (零食节) – one of dozens of similar themed and pithily titled events the ecommerce giant throws each month.

The coupons were offered during Viya’s broadcast for a limited period between 8pm and midnight on 16 September, when users could pay for the coupon and redeem their drink in person at a Starbucks location.

In addition, more than 3,000 Starbucks products were sold in just five seconds during the event – including mugs, flasks and the brand’s own Siri-style voice-ordering smart speaker, called Tmall Genie. The digital barista was developed in collaboration with Alibaba and launched in China earlier this month.

Around 50 other products by a variety of brands were offered during Viya’s broadcast, all with exclusive discounts.

The event was the first time Starbucks had partnered with Viya, who is Taobao’s top live-selling web celeb – or wang hong (网红).

In 2018 her sales total was an eye-watering CNY2.7 billion – or just under US$380 million. She currently has around 6.8 million followers on the platform.

Starbucks’ livestreaming sales cornucopia is the latest move in an ongoing battle of the beans involving the Seattle brand and a crop of domestic coffeehouses. Recent years have seen an explosion in the number of specialist coffee shops in China, stimulated by consumers’ growing taste for elabourate coffee-based beverages. The biggest is Luckin Coffee, which was launched in 2017 and already has 2,370 stores in 28 cities versus 3,300 Starbucks outlets.

John Millichap

Co-founder & creative director, Signal8 Digital Marketing