06 Dec 2021, 13:29

Asia's biggest flower market makes stars out of influencers

   KUNMING, China, Dec 6, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Boxes of roses, lilies and
carnations pile up as influencer Caicai speaks into her smartphone from a
small studio at Asia's biggest flower market -- with thousands of customers
eagerly awaiting her view on the best deals.

  E-commerce is big business in China and influencers and livestreamers have
made their fortunes showcasing products for luxury brands and cosmetics

  Now the nation's horticulture industry, worth an estimated 160 billion yuan
($25.1 billion), is getting in on the action. And where once people visited
markets and florists themselves, they are increasingly shopping for blooms
via their smartphones.

  Online retail now represents more than half the sector's turnover.

  "Five bouquets, only 39.8 yuan (6.25 dollars) for those that order right
away," the 23-year-old says -- a sales pitch she hones for eight hours a day
delivered at lightning speed.

  "When you sell something for a long time, the words come naturally," she
tells AFP.

  Earnings can be unreliable, however.

  "Flower sales vary in busy and slack seasons, so a livestreamers' daily
income is very variable. All I can say is that the more you work, the luckier
you will be," she explains, as colleagues next to her put the bouquets in
cardboard boxes ready to be shipped.

  Demand for cut flowers has soared in China as standards of living have
risen, with the southern province of Yunnan at the epicenter of that boom
thanks to its all-year mild climate.

  Provincial capital Kunming boasts the biggest flower market in Asia -- the
second biggest in the world after Aalsmeer in the Netherlands.

  - 'Flowers are vital' -

  Everyday at 3 p.m., a rose auction starts in a huge room where over 600
buyers share the day's supply behind their screens.

  "Yunnan represents around 80 percent of flower production in China and 70-
80 percent of the flowers on sale pass through our auction room," says Zhang
Tao, responsible for the market's logistics -- a crucial role when the goods
are so perishable.

  "That represents on average more than four million flowers sold every day.
For Chinese Valentine's day, we sold 9.3 million in a day."

  They are shipped across China within 48 hours.

  On the retail side of the market, another influencer, Bi Xixi, showcases
flowers and bouquets from stalls to sell on to her own online subscribers.

  Wearing a traditional Chinese dress known as a hanfu, passing from one
stand to another with her phone at the end of a cane, the 32-year-old has
racked up around 60,000 subscribers.

  She picks up flowers, shows them on her screen while followers hurry to
place their orders.

  Bi Xixi started livestreaming early last year, when China was paralysed by
the Covid pandemic. That's when she realised people were eager to see online
the flowers they could no longer buy outside.

  Now, on a good day, she says she manages to sell 150,000 yuan ($23,500)
worth of flowers in three hours of livestreaming.

  She takes around ten percent commission and is optimistic about the future
of the trade.

  "People appreciate rituals more and more. Flowers give them a feeling of
being happy and young people are beginning to like buying flowers," she says.

  The market is still very far from saturation, says Qian Chongjun, head of
the Dounan Flower Corporation, one of the largest entities on the market.

  "Buying flowers every week has become a habit in many families," says Qian.
"I think that one day they will become a vital need, like air and water".


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