Kim Kardashian enters China's influencer world

Chinese influencer Viya.
Chinese influencer Viya runs a live-stream channel with more than nine million followers on China's e-commerce platform Taobao.PHOTO: VIYA/WEIBO

BEIJING • Twelve million people watched as Kim Kardashian West opened a mahjong set on screen.

"My friends play all the time," she said. "I'm the only one who doesn't know how to play... Now, I have to learn."

The Los Angeles-based reality television celebrity was speaking on a live-stream channel run by Chinese influencer Viya, a spunky woman in her 30s with more than nine million followers on China's e-commerce platform Taobao.

Every night, the live-stream shopper hawks cosmetics, purses, apparel and snacks online, speed-talking and showcasing everything from Gucci purses to Chinese spice packages for sour fish soup.

At her peak last month, she sold US$49.7 million (S$67.6 million) of goods in one day.

This is known in China as "social commerce", a full fusion of social media and online shopping.

In China's online ecosystem, where e-payments, live streaming and e-commerce are fully integrated, influencers such as Kardashian have become a major driver of consumption.

That drive is ramping up as China's Singles' Day, the largest shopping day of the year which falls today, approaches. It earned more than US$30 billion on Nov 11 last year on Alibaba's two online platforms, Taobao and Tmall, alone.

This year, Chinese sales are expected to increase, despite the Chinese economy's slowing growth rate and the impact of the United States-China trade war. But as Kardashian's appearance shows, American products - and celebrities - still have cachet in China despite heightened tariffs and geopolitical tension.


Singer Rihanna is marketing her make-up brand Fenty Beauty on Tmall Global. Pop star Taylor Swift headlines the countdown gala for Singles Day this year.

Kardashian appeared on Viya's live stream last Thursday to promote her signature KKW fragrances, packaged in bottles shaped like full red or hot pink lips.

"Very sexy," Viya said, wiggling one bottle in front of the screen.

She sold 150,000 bottles of the perfume in a matter of seconds, according to an Alibaba report.

The two influencers bantered, with Kardashian calling in from abroad on a screen within Viya's screen.

Viya said she had sent Kardashian a gift: a mahjong set embossed with Tmall Global's logo.

"Next time you come to China, we can have hot pot and play mahjong together," Viya said through an interpreter.

"I would love it," Kardashian said with a smile.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2019, with the headline 'Kim Kardashian enters China's influencer world'. Subscribe