Liu leaned against the subway door and typed, “Do you still have the fermented beancurd I bought last time? I want to buy some more for my colleagues, and please deliver it as early as possible.”
“No problem, you are my valued customer,” Xinbao replied. The two chatted via the ByteDance-backed platform, whose core user base mostly hails from third- and fourth-tier cities in China like Xinbao.
Today, as millions of Chinese people are being connected by short video and live streaming apps, the culture and economy of urban and rural areas are becoming more closely entwined. The way of building trust between remote buyers and sellers on these platforms is spawning an upending revolution on China’s e-commerce arena.
Recording Daily Life
Eight months ago, Xinbao bought herself a new dress and officially launched her vlog, looking her best. Her aim was to record the rural life around her via short videos, and give urban dwellers a window into her world.
Like many rural youth, Xinbao once went to school in the city and worked in Guangdong Province, but now she prefers her current status as a vlogger. “The virtual world on the Huoshan platform is a place where ordinary people can freely communicate. It is quite tolerant and gentle, and there are a lot of topics to talk about,” said Xinbao.
Her videos mostly depict this charming girl cultivating fields, herding cattle, and chopping firewood under the blue sky and white clouds, between green mountains and rivers. They soon went viral on Huoshan and intrigued many users. In no time, she had attracted tens of thousands of followers, and Liu Jianguo in Beijing is one of them.
Two months ago, Liu left a message for Xinbao, suggesting that she open an online store to sell local specialties she mentioned in her videos. At first, Xinbao had some concerns. She was worried she would mess up and lose viewers.
It turned out that her fears were unwarranted.
The carefully selected products on her vlogs, such as fermented beancurd and glutinous rice cakes, brought her and her foodie followers closer. In one month, the number of her followers on Huoshan spiked to 400,000, making her a celebrity of note.
In Tune with Nature
In a live streaming era, the value of a vlogger is measured by the number of their followers. How many fans a vlogger has determines their influence as well as their commercial value.
Xinbao has established a good relationship and trust with her fans: a short video can receive thousands of likes immediately; and a 30-minute live streaming video attracts tens of thousands of fans. The fermented beancurd sold in her online store has been heatedly sought after, and some fans not only buy it for themselves, but also for colleagues and neighbors. Xinbao said she is delighted to see the growing number of daily orders.
In July 2019, Xinbao did a two-hour live streaming about plowing, and followed up with a few short videos on the topic. The videos were all taken from real scenes with no filters used. There is only some simple background music and explanations. Unexpectedly, it resulted in a fan base increase of 200,000, which surprised and thrilled her. She was left wondering if people on her platform preferred watching videos on farm work.
In her hometown, there is no large-scale machinery for farming, and the manual labor methods used in ancient times are still preserved. Digging layers of narrow terraces, the most common scene in her videos, has become a source of fascination to thousands of Huoshan users.
With this realization, Xinbao began to gradually add farming elements to the videos. From plowing the farmland to harvesting rice, carrying firewood, and forging iron, she tried almost everything.
Then, as other girls who generally enjoy looking good in front of the camera, Xinbao posted a series of posed glamor images of herself, but soon found that her fans weren’t that interested in matters of beauty.
Following suggestions of her fans, Xinbao focused on real life and began to show the natural aspects of the mountains and rivers. The farmland in front of her house became an outdoor studio for her to make videos, and her neighbors became colleagues. She showcases a true rural girl in front of the camera, and this attitude has won her the love and trust of more fans.
Fertile Soil for Startups
For new entrepreneurs like Xinbao, 2019 was a year full of opportunities. The popularity of short videos has pushed people from poor villages like Xinbao to the spotlight in a virtual world. They have brought rural specialties to the national market through the medium of short videos, and simplicity and credibility become the new labels on the goods being sold.
People from small cities account for a large proportion of short-video platform users. The more permissive, inclusive, and kind platform created by Huoshan is an ideal vehicle for entrepreneurs starting out to gain experience.
For Xinbao, quickly establishing trust with her fans was an important reason for her success.
Since the establishment of her online store, she has put only five types of products on the shelf. However, the store has witnessed a total of more than 13,000 orders for the fermented beancurd and 1,000 orders of glutinous rice cakes. “The customer service facility has hardly been used. After watching my video, my followers directly clicked the link and directly placed orders. The product is sold in its natural state and people trust us,” said Xinbao.
Many buyers are people from rural areas now living in cities. They appreciate rural customs and are willing to be returning customers of agricultural products.
Against the backdrop of rising markets in small cities and rural areas as well as booming segment markets, vloggers like Xinbao who deliver a real rural life find a way to secure sustainable success. Their fans realize the unadulterated value of the products they buy, without marketing hype. An emotional consumption pattern based on culture has therefore begun to emerge.
New Forms of Targeted Poverty Alleviation
“I am surrounded by elderly people every day. They didn’t quite understand what I was doing at first,” Xinbao recalled, adding that when she first started shooting videos, she was often watched by locals during the process.
As a poverty-stricken county, Xinbao’s hometown struggles to retain young people. Most of them choose to work in developed coastal areas. When the youthful Xinbao first appeared at the local market and shot videos on making fermented beancurd in the traditional way, the onlookers were curious and puzzled.
“Some people think this is not a good job,” Xinbao said. “I told them that there are thousands of people who will see my video, and the hometown’s products can be sold all over the country.” Although the business is still new, Xinbao has registered a trademark for fermented bean-curd and established a company.
Her decision was also a result of changes in her hometown. Not long ago, the local women’s federation held a training program for farmers. Xinbao was invited to talk to local female entrepreneurs about the influence of new media. She shared with them the characteristics, operation, and e-commerce opportunities presented by platforms like Huoshan. “Our achievements have gained recognition among local people and I am proud of that,” she said.
Xinbao also visited leading local companies to pick up experience for her future business and is on track to becoming a leader in local economic development.
Driven by robust consumption, rural e-commerce in China has maintained a high growth rate over recent years. The 2018 China E-Commerce Report by the Ministry of Commerce showed that the value of rural e-commerce transactions in 2018 was RMB 1.37 trillion (US $193.26 billion), a year-on-year increase of 30.4 percent.
Issues relating to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents have been on the top agenda of the government for years. As a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial reform is emerging and impacting positively on the transformation and upgrading of agriculture, the power of Internet can be further leveraged to help with targeted poverty alleviation efforts.
QIAN YUMENG Is a reporter with New Weekly.