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E-shopping in the age of online celebrity

By Ouyang Shijia | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-11 07:47

A critic of evolutionary psychology or sociobiology, Anne Innis Dagg wrote a book entitled 'Love of Shopping' Is Not a Gene, but I sometimes wonder if she had got it all wrong.

I can spend hours studying details about stuff like earrings or bags online. Once armed with sufficient information, I ponder, in the fashion of Hamlet: To buy or not to buy?

Over the past year, the frequency of such soliloquies has increased, thanks to Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book, a Chinese e-commerce app.

Xiaohongshu helps Chinese consumers to buy overseas goods directly. It offers shopping tips as well. I particularly love its social media feature that allows users to interact with each other by way of shared images and comments on the merchandise bought.

I no longer trawl various online fora for product reviews. Xiaohongshu has made it passe.

Little Red Book also helps me to stay up-to-date with e-shopping trends. One such trend is the advent of wanghong or internet celebrity.

There are posters of wanghong on Little Red Book. Out of sheer curiosity, I once tapped on one of them. It led me to a livestream of a 21-year-old college student named Coco Zhan, who is based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

As it transpires, Zhan is now my favorite wanghong. The superfast broadband internet, my octacore smartphone and online alerts help me to view her posts the moment they are published.

Coco Zhan comes across more as a girl next door than an A-list actress. I find her warmly offering advice, shopping tips, so on. She shares a great deal about her day-to-day life.

All this strikes a chord. Maybe because I can relate to that sort of content.

It offers a pleasant contrast too to what I see as an impassable gulf that separates me from film superstars. It's fair to say I'll never become a celebrity merely by imitating superstars' styles or by buying the expensive products they endorse.

Compared to film icons, Zhan is relatively reachable and relatable. The stuff she buys seems more affordable, within my reach.

Of course, the same can't be said of all wanghong. Some of them have had plastic surgeries done. Eyelids, chin, nose, skin ...-all got altered to make them telegenic or "mobilegenic", to coin a new word.

On the other hand, Zhan has shown that healthy beauty is something else, not skin-deep. My heart beats better every time I hear, view or read her thoughts on love, career, marriage, family and other existential issues.

All that content is original, produced by Zhan herself. Netizens, particularly millennials, including yours truly, lap it up. Millennials look up to celebrities such as Zhan as they appear to be well grounded in life and level-headed-role models that we hope one day we could become.

Zhan has about 633,000 followers on Xiaohongshu. She has posted over 200 reviews and recommendations on a wide range of products and services, including trip suggestions, beauty products and jewelry.

According to a report by Shanghai-based research institute CBNData, the market size of China's wanghong economy was worth 58 billion yuan ($877 million) in 2016, more than film box-office receipts in 2015.

"Wanghong must have a keen sense of fashion, deep understanding of the industry as well as enormous personal charm," the institute noted in the report. "And the key to success is building the brand and maintaining professional operations."

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