Virtual humans helping spur e-commerce

Avatars able of livestreaming sessions 24/7 save big bucks for enterprises

By FAN FEIFEI | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-07 09:42
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Digital human technologies used for livestreaming sessions are displayed at the 4th China International Consumer Products Expo in Haikou, Hainan province, in April. LUO YUNFEI/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

An artificial intelligence-powered digital doppelganger of Liu Qiangdong, Chinese e-commerce giant JD's founder and chairman, appeared in two of the firm's livestreaming rooms in April to promote a variety of products including meats, edible oil, eggs, milk, air conditioners and televisions.

Powered by JD's large language model ChatRhino, the virtual avatar almost perfectly replicates Liu's facial expressions, body language, gestures, voice and accent, capturing even the subtlest movements of his fingers.

Nicknamed "procurement and sales manager Brother Dong", Liu's avatar generated over 20 million views within the first hour, and landed 50 million yuan ($6.9 million) in sales throughout the entire real-time broadcasted sessions.

Liu's virtual replica even shared his own feelings about healthy diets, cooking experiences, fitness and exercise methods.

Equipped with 50,000 hours of voice data, JD's LLM technology enables digital avatars to intelligently adapt to various livestreaming styles dynamically, and answer 70 percent of the frequently asked questions during a livestreaming session, the company said.

The virtual anchors offer a glimpse into China's burgeoning e-commerce sector, which utilizes AI-powered virtual hosts to introduce various products and spur sales. Chinese online retailers and tech companies have ratcheted up efforts to promote the use of digital humans in their livestreaming campaigns.

So far, JD's AI-powered virtual livestreamers have promoted more than 4,000 brands, contributing to a 30 percent increase in order conversion rates during off-peak hours and helping merchants reduce livestreaming costs, enhance operational efficiency and optimize user experience.

The digital avatars boast a 90 percent accuracy rate in offering tailored product recommendations when prompted by customers, and cut costs of hosting livestreaming sessions by 90 percent compared with humans, JD added.

The company recently announced an investment of 1 billion yuan into video content creation, which underscores its commitment to leveraging short videos and livestreaming to improve the online shopping experience for users, and create new growth avenues for brand merchants.

Data from iiMedia Research showed that revenue of China's livestreaming e-commerce sector reached 1.7 trillion yuan last year, up 16 percent year-on-year. This figure is expected to reach 2.14 trillion yuan in 2025.

The size of China's virtual human market is forecast to reach 270 billion yuan by 2030, according to an industry report released by QbitAI, an industry services platform focusing on AI and other cutting-edge technologies.

The application of virtual hosts in livestreaming e-commerce will likely see speedy growth this year fueled by user demand, advances in AI technology and policy support, said Zhang Yi, CEO and chief analyst at consultancy iiMedia Research.

Zhang said the major challenges lie in how to allow virtual anchors to better interact with users and understand their demands more precisely during livestreaming sessions.

Other major e-commerce platforms have accelerated their layout in the application of digital humans in livestreaming activities. Tmall, Alibaba's business-to-customer e-marketplace, has launched AI virtual models to provide users with a more personalized shopping experience.

With the help of digital human livestreaming technology, Alibaba's online marketplace Taobao offers marketing services concerning real-time broadcasting campaigns for merchants. Online discounter PDD Holdings has carried out a series of product intro events through digital human anchors, so as to attract a large number of users.

Global consultancy Forrester said more B2C brands are using virtual hosts to attract digital-savvy and novelty-seeking young consumers, as they cost less than human hosts and don't create celebrity scandals that could potentially hurt brand image.

Qianxun Holdings, one of China's top livestreaming companies, has unveiled an AI hosting service and a one-stop AI livestreaming service platform.

Tao Yadong, a partner of Qianxun Holdings and CEO of Qianyu Intelligence, said it usually costs about 150,000 to 250,000 yuan each month to run a traditional livestreaming room with a dozen workers and equipment. By comparison, brand owners just need to spend several thousand yuan on operating a virtual livestreaming room helmed by a virtual host.

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