Every day, millions of people in China turn to the opinions of a 34-year old woman called Huang Wei. Better known as Viya to her devoted followers, she is the lead anchor of Taobao Live, a livestreaming show that is a hybrid mix of a shopping channel, and an entertainment and social media platform, all rolled into an ecommerce app.
Each night, Viya and her team of researchers and chatty co-hosts promote and sell hundreds of different products to captivated audiences, all of whom tune in via an app on their mobile phones.
Since starting her daily show several years ago, she has sold everything from beauty products, cars, houses, electronics, carpets and food products right through to holidays, doorbells and furniture. On Singles' Day in November 2019, which is the biggest shopping day of the Chinese shopping year, she managed to shift 3 billion yuan (€360m) worth of goods in the space of 24 hours.
In April, during the strict lockdown in China, an estimated 37m people tuned in to see Viya livestream from her studio in Hangzhou where the company that produces the show, Qianxan Group, is headquartered. Not surprisingly, brands are falling over themselves in the queue to get a slot and a favourable mention from Viya herself.
While her jovial personality and razor-sharp wit have endeared her towards the millions of Chinese who have embraced online shopping as a way of life - even more so during the lockdown - her success has also been underpinned by the deployment of a powerful digital platform, some slick digital marketing tools and seamless payment functionalities.
For many in the western world this might seem like some form of dystopian online retail hell, but ecommerce livestreaming - as the analysts now call it - offers a glimpse into the future of online retailing and, more importantly, how brands can get directly to consumers in a quick and effective manner while bypassing a scorched retail landscape that is faltering in many parts of the world following the global pandemic crisis.
In the USA, some of the best-known retail brands like J.Crew, Neiman Marcus, JC Penney and Tuesday Morning are just some of the high-profile casualties.
In the UK, the retail apocalypse has also touched brands like Oasis, Warehouse, TM Lewin, Laura Ashley, DW Sports, Accessorize, Feather & Black, Monsoon and Aldo.
While the global pandemic has probably fast-tracked the closure of many businesses that were already struggling, it has also propelled many others into the future far faster by forcing them to think about everything from their distribution chains to their ecommerce capabilities. And, of course, those two dreaded words that send a shiver up the spines of many businesses: digital transformation.
A recent report by the Dublin-based digital agency Wolfgang Digital, for example, noted that online retail sales in Ireland in June were up by a whopping 112pc on pre-Covid levels.
Even after Irish retailers began opening their doors in early June, online retained its grip and sales were up by 91pc on their pre-pandemic levels, as consumers grew accustomed to shopping from their couches.
As Wolfgang's CEO, Alan Coleman, noted: "Covid has propelled the Irish online economy into 2024."
Ecommerce, of course, is not new and the minted giants like Amazon and Alibaba still bestride the global online retail landscape like colossi. But in forcing existing retail brands to think more strategically about their future, the Covid pandemic has unquestionably accelerated a move by many more into the online space.
"When it comes to high-street shopping and you take away, as the current pandemic has done, the benefits of the security, convenience and general enjoyment of shopping, then they have been left to compete with their online counterparts on price alone," says Jonathan Forrest, CEO of another Dublin-based agency, In the Company of Huskies.
"By the nature of its model, online retailing competes more effectively on price. As a result, people are migrating to the online retail experience in unprecedented numbers," he says, adding that he expects many of the behavioural changes in relation to online shopping to become habitual post-pandemic.
What normality might look like in the post-pandemic retail world is still anybody's guess but it may well be that Viya and her backers are on to something.
Windsor drives to FWT
The Dublin-based creative agency Folk Wunderman Thompson (formerly JWT Folk, ) has continued its winning streak by landing the creative account for Windsor Motors, Ireland's largest new and used car distributor. Windsor has showrooms in Dublin, Meath, Wicklow, Louth and Galway and employs 350 staff.
Headed up by Abi Moran, (senior management team pictured), the agency's other clients include An Post, Circle K, Vodafone, Cairn Homes, Bord Gáis, Vodafone and Kraft Heinz.
Digitize wins TikTok
As TikTok finds itself unwittingly embroiled in a political firestorm in the USA, with Donald Trump at the head of it, the social media platform is ploughing ahead to invest up to €420m in a new Irish data centre which will create several hundred new jobs over the next two years. It has also moved to appoint Digitize, the online sales house headed up by John Patten, to sell advertising on its platform in Ireland. Digitize already sells digital advertising for a number of platforms, including All4 and Spotify.
Sunday Indo Business