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China’s social media vending machine, Li Jiaqi, suddenly returns after mysterious absence, just in time for major retail success

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Chinese online influencer “Austin” Li Jiaqi, left, appears in a video on one of his social media accounts touting a Wall’s ice cream product.

Beijing — It had been more than 100 days since Li Jiaqi, one of China’s most prominent and profitable social media influencers and salespeople, was abruptly interrupted during a live stream on June 3. , just a day before the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on student protesters in Tiananmen Square.

Many Chinese internet users suspected that Li was promoting a tank-shaped ice cream on his channel was the trigger for the sudden shutdown. Tanks have become a symbol of the Communist Party’s repression of Chinese civilians since troops used them during that deadly crackdown, and any mention of them, even ice cream cones that vaguely resemble them, are extremely sensitive around the June 4 anniversary.

On Tuesday night, Li suddenly reappeared, selling a range of innocuous products to an eager online audience who quickly welcomed him back. Again, no explanation was given for his sudden disappearance or his re-emergence.

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Chinese social media influencer and sales force Li Jiaqi, left, appears next to a co-host during his first sales session for an e-commerce platform owned by Alibaba since he disappeared without explanation more than 100 days earlier, September 21, 2022.

Taobao/Li Jiaqi


According to Chinese media, Li’s return session, which was streamed on a website owned by Alibaba – a Chinese Amazon equivalent – and other social media platforms, was viewed more than 60 million times and sold an estimated $18 million worth of products.

Li, who also goes by the westernized name Austin, was greeted warmly by his army of fans as some Chinese speculated online that any individual with the unique power to boost retail sales so significantly was simply too valuable to the Chinese economy to keep quiet. to be imposed for a long time.


China enforces new round of COVID lockdowns and rules

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China’s economic engine is still largely at a standstill as the government adheres to strict “zero COVID” policywhich severely restricts the movement of goods and people in large areas if even a few cases of coronavirus are detected.

Ongoing lockdowns and other COVID restrictions allow consumers to significantly reduce their offline spending, according to a Fitch Ratings report.

Many had hoped that those people would instead turn to China’s online retail giants, such as Alibaba and JD.com. Those companies have also suffered as the world collectively suffers from the economic contraction and rising energy prices. In the second quarter, Alibaba, where Li has helped bring in billions in sales for years, posted his first ever flat year-over-year sales growth.

Things are going so bad that the company plans to launch an annual discount bonanza early. The “Singles’ Day” shopping spree takes place every year around November 11 – or 11/11, with all on the date representing lonely people. This year, according to the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, it starts weeks earlier than usual in an effort to boost sales.


Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba pulls in billions in Singles Day sales

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The holiday was originally launched in 2009, touted by the shopping giant as an “anti-Valentine’s Day” event for singles to indulge themselves. But it has been widely adopted by e-commerce sites as a sales event, with numbers eclipsing Cyber ​​Monday.

However, the event has lost some of its initial luster, and with the economic conditions as they are this year, executives at Alibaba and other online retailers are hoping social media influencers can persuade Chinese consumers to give up more of their money.

And while the world may never know exactly what hastened Li’s sudden return to the online retail space, many store executives will probably be even happier than his consumer fans to have him back.

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