Alibaba’s InTime department store chain turns to live-streaming

The sellers of one of the InTime stores belonging to Alibaba present products for sale during a livestream.

InTime | Ali Baba

InTime, one of China’s largest department store operators owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba, turned to live streaming and online sales during the coronavirus lockout in China, CEO Chen Xiaodong told CNBC.

The move helped the company dramatically increase its digital revenues, he added, while pledging to continue opening more physical locations.

The digital push highlights how InTime was able to harness the power of e-commerce and Alibaba’s logistics scale to survive the foreclosure, which saw its 65 stores closed for several weeks. Alibaba acquired InTime in 2017.

Meanwhile, retailers around the world have faced store closings and bankruptcies due to the pandemic.

Sales in May had almost completely returned to levels from the same time last year, while pedestrian traffic in stores was only 70% of what it was, Chen told CNBC on Thursday. He said the company’s digital push had helped him achieve this goal.

InTime has an app called Miaojie from which people can order. Deliveries are made to customers using Alibaba’s logistics network.

InTime also hopped on the live train, a popular way to shop in China. In some e-commerce applications in China, users will often see videos of people talking about products. They can then purchase items from this live stream.

Although sales remain low from this method of purchase, it does help attract people to an online store or brand.

And that helped InTime. Almost 20% of this year’s sales come from online sales versus a “single digit” portion in 2019, said Chen, adding that he expects that figure to reach 50% next year. .

Chen said the company plans to intensify its live broadcast efforts. He doubled his live broadcast sessions – from 100 to 200 – at the height of the pandemic, and used salespeople from his stores to appear on the videos.

It was hosted via Taobao Live, the live streaming platform managed by Alibaba. Taobao is one of China’s most popular e-commerce applications, which helps InTime to attract customers.

“Live streaming is booming in a pandemic, but I think in normal times we will also focus on these types of tools,” said Chen.

“The traditional service in our department stores or malls, they can only serve one or two people. Right now (with live broadcast), they can serve a group of people at the same time.”

He added that InTime will increase the number of products for sale via live streaming and content.

Other companies are doing the same. JD.com, Alibaba’s fiercest rival in China, announced on Wednesday a partnership with the Kuaishou live streaming platform. Users of this application will be able to purchase products via JD without leaving the Kuaishou application.

Meanwhile, InTime also plans to open more physical stores, according to Chen. In contrast, US retailers such as the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, L Brands and J.C. Penney, who have been hit hard by the coronavirus, have decided to close stores.

“According to our plan, we will open five to eight stores a year,” said Chen.

To date, InTime has not opened any new stores this year. The company added four new locations in 2019.

– Bugfix: this story has been updated to accurately reflect that Chen said his business would focus on tools such as live streaming.

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