The flower market turns stars into influencers

A vendor sorts flowers at the Dounan Flower Market in Kunming, southwest China’s Yunnan Province. AFP

Boxes of roses, lilies and carnations pile up as influencer Caicai talks into her smartphone from a small studio in Asia’s biggest flower market – with thousands of customers eagerly awaiting her take on the best offers.

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

Now the country’s horticultural industry, worth an estimated 160 billion yuan ($25.1 billion), is swinging into action. And where once people visited markets and florists themselves, they are increasingly buying flowers via their smartphones.

E-commerce now represents more than half of the sector’s turnover.

“Five bouquets, only 39.8 yuan [$6.25] for those who order right away,” says the 23-year-old – a sales pitch she perfects eight hours a day and delivers at lightning speed.

“When you’re selling something for a long time, the words come naturally,” she said.

However, the gains may not be reliable.

“Flower sales fluctuate between busy and off-peak seasons, so the daily income of live streamers is highly variable. All I can say is that the harder you work, the luckier you will be,” explains she says, as her colleagues next to her put the bouquets into boxes ready to be shipped.

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

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Influencer Bi Xixi (left), wearing a traditional costume, livestreams Dounan Flower Market to sell flowers with her phone in Kunming on October 22. AFP

The provincial capital Kunming has the largest flower market in Asia – the second largest in the world after Aalsmeer in the Netherlands.

Flowers are vital

Every day at 3 p.m., a rose auction begins in a huge room where more than 600 buyers share the day’s supply behind their screens.

“Yunnan accounts for around 80% of flower production in China, and 70-80% of flowers for sale pass through our auction house,” says Zhang Tao, market logistics manager, a crucial role when goods are so perishable.

“This represents on average more than four million flowers sold every day. For Chinese Valentine’s Day, we sold 9.3 million in one 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 resell to her own followers online.

Wearing a traditional Chinese dress known as a hanfu, moving from stall to stall with her phone on the end of a cane, the 32-year-old has amassed around 60,000 followers.

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

Bi Xixi began broadcasting live early last year when China was crippled by the Covid pandemic. It was then that she realized that people were eager to see the flowers online that 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 live streaming.

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

“People are more and more appreciating rituals. The flowers make them feel happy and the young people are starting to like buying flowers,” she says.

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

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

Terisa K. Carn