How AI Hosts are Changing the Future of China’s E-Commerce Market

Shelly XuFeatures

Influencer recording vlog. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

AI hosts are booming under China's live-streaming market. Live Streaming E-Commerce is a form of promoting and selling goods through live streams. Brands steam on their own social media channels, most often housed on China’s online shopping malls.

Alibaba’s Taobao Live has the most share of live-streaming E-commerce in China, with 400 Billion RMB in total value of merchandise sold in 2020, according to Marketing to China report.

Other large Chinese tech and e-commerce players, like Baidu and JD.com, have jumped in. Douyin, the Chinese version of Tik Tok also has shoppable live streams within the apps. Products featured are primarily cosmetics and beauty aids, fashion, and food.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s live-streaming industry has sprung up on a large scale, becoming a major method for various e-commerce startups to do business.

AI anchors are virtual anchors driven by artificial intelligence. The live broadcast of virtual characters blends into the development of the live broadcast industry. It can automatically attract fans under the state of human-free live broadcasts, and at the same time alleviate the pressure of having a human anchor and reduce the cost of hiring the anchor.

With the help of cutting-edge cognitive intelligence and perceptual technology, AI virtual anchors can make corresponding expressions based on live broadcast content. For example, when the live broadcast progresses to the ordering session, the AI anchor can say "Buy it!" while making expressions and body movements that show excitement like a real person.

Big companies in China are increasing the research, development and application of AI virtual anchors. Tech companies like iFlytek and Sogou, along with tech giants such as JD.com, Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba also developed and are using AI virtual anchors on their E-commerce platforms.

Chen Haiqing, the senior algorithm expert at Alibaba Dharma Academy, which develops AI anchors, pointed out that an AI virtual anchor needs to have the following four aspects of technical architecture: perception and cognition, director system, 3D modeling and 3D material library.

AI’s role in China’s biggest shopping event

During this year's “Double 11” event on November 11, the Black Friday-like shopping festival in China, many e-commerce platforms and stores implemented the AI virtual anchor function. They used a combination of real people and AI virtual anchors to achieve a 24-hour live broadcast.

Fantian Zhang, a sales manager for a clothing store on Taobao, China’s biggest online shopping site, said AI anchors helped her store score a record sale this year, up 10% from last year.

Zhang’s store used a female AI anchor to stream for 32 hours from November 11 to November 12, selling over 30,000 items, one of the best sales for this year so far.

“We all know that live broadcast has become a standard in China’s e-commerce for many years,” Zhang told The Org. “And due to the high cost of live hosts and limited online time, virtual anchors will become a better alternative. It’s going to be the future.”

During the "Double 11" period, international brands such as Philips, L'Oréal and L'Occitane also used AI anchors to bring more traffic on their Taobao platforms.

Philips has six core stores that have launched the virtual anchor function, trying to combine real people and virtual anchors to ensure 24-hour uninterrupted live broadcast in the live broadcast room of the store.

"After launching the AI anchor, the daily record of the number of viewers in the live broadcast room is constantly changing, reaching a maximum of nearly 80,000 viewers," Xiang Jing, head of the Philips' Tmall online store told Xinhua.

AI anchor integrates Dharma Academy’s most cutting-edge cognitive intelligence and perceptual intelligence technology, and its facial expressions and live content can be changed in real-time according to the live broadcast situation. For example, when the virtual anchor yells "OMG!", it will show the corresponding mouth shape, along with a facial expression and body language of surprise.

In the live broadcast room of the food brand Three Squirrels, whenever the live-action anchor is down, a cute short-haired cartoon girl will take over the live broadcast room and skillfully introduce the various nuts and snacks in the store to customers.

There are more than 600 products in the store, and she introduces each product's characteristics, taste and preferential policies.

"With the help of virtual anchors, from November 1 to 3, we completed 8 million yuan in Tmall live broadcast sales," Liu Shucai, the head of the Three Squirrel live broadcast team, told Xinhua. “The performance of the AI anchor is almost equal to that of a live broadcaster.”

Liu Shucai also revealed that the next step is to use Dharma Academy’s technology to incubate a batch of Three Squirrels’ cartoon images and become future virtual anchors to explore more possibilities for the company’s brand marketing.

Jessie Xu, a student in Beijing who has only shopped online for the past five years, said she is impressed by the quality of these AI hosts in live streams. “As a customer, I love to see when a brand is bringing new technologies into its platform. It makes them stand out from the others,” she said.

Other applications of AI virtual anchors

In addition to the application of AI virtual anchors in e-commerce, they are also widely used in others like media and gaming.

In 2018, Xinhua News Agency launched the world's first AI news anchor, named Xin Xiaowei. People's Daily launched the AI virtual anchor Guoguo in 2019.

These virtual news anchors can efficiently complete multilingual news live broadcasts without energy, time and space constraints, saving traditional reporter's time and energy for reporting simple news.

“Guoguo is very helpful to us, especially when our anchors can not make it to the live broadcast due to weather, health and other last-minute issues,” Jackie Wei, a reporter at People’s Daily said. “This technology will transform the media landscape.”

Douyu, one of China’s biggest game streaming platforms, launched a female virtual anchor in 2018 and has gained increasing popularity among the gaming community. Viewers describe the similarity between the AI game anchor and a real person can reach up to 90%-95%.

“The technology of AI hosts introduced a natural communication between machines and humans,” OBEN China’s scientific consultant Wang Ruizhe told Sina News. “In the future, we will continue to see such interaction technology to finance, education, medical and other fields."

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