Shifting from classrooms to e-commerce: China's education giant finds new life with bilingual livestreaming sessions

By Wu Chaolan (People's Daily Online) 16:39, June 28, 2022

(Screenshot/Livestreaming studio Dongfang Zhenxuan operated by New Oriental Education & Technology Group)

China's private tutoring giant, New Oriental Education & Technology Group (New Oriental), is making a comeback. This time the arena is not inside the classroom but a live-streaming studio.

In late 2021, the tutoring company jumped onto the bandwagon, starting its live-streaming channel to sell agricultural products, with its founder Yu Minhong occasionally hosting the sessions himself. The company's sales were lackluster until a few weeks ago when its host Dong Yuhui, a former teacher, began bilingual livestream e-commerce sessions, creating a national buzz.

In a video that went viral on Chinese social media, Dong, after promoting a set deal for steaks, pulled out a small whiteboard where he wrote English words related to beef, such as steak, seasoning, and cuts. Dong's enthusiasm, fluency in English, witty jokes, personal stories, and talent for singing soon won over audiences across China, drawing a surge of followers and boosting sales on their official live streaming platform.

After the unexpected sky-rocketing popularity of Dong, the company waged a bilingual live-streaming bonanza with dozens of tutors-turned-live streamers grabbing every opportunity to teach their viewers a little English by using a whiteboard to introduce new vocabulary related to the product they were promoting.

The bilingual online sales approach starkly contrasts with other live-streaming rooms where hosts can be seen excitedly presenting products and urging people on with a direct sales pitch to make an immediate purchase. In the New Oriental's live-streaming studio, the hosts would chat about life, poetry, and philosophy and even recite some of Shakespeare's sonnets while introducing the goods.

"I like the way they promoted products. It's calm and educational," said He Yunyi, who partook in one of the live-streaming sessions as a viewer. "The wide knowledge reserve of the hosts has made them the 'top ceiling' for live streamers," she added.

"Selling products in two languages is a significant transformation for New Oriental," said Yu in a video he posted online. "They have changed from being teachers to being live-streaming hosts, which has attracted public attention and recognition, all thanks to consumers' tolerance and support."

Although various kinds of social e-commerce categories are trendy in China, the New Oriental's bilingual live-streaming strategy combines education, e-commerce, and live streaming has hit the sweet spot with Chinese netizens who like to learn something while being entertained and perhaps also buying something.

"Online shopping has never been more educational," one viewer commented. "When I was a kid, I took your class, and now I bought your products," another wrote.

On June 10, when Dong first wowed Chinese social media with his English-language sales promotion show, the company's live-streaming account garnered over 680,000 followers. As of June 27, the account has accumulated nearly 20 million followers.

Since June 10, New Oriental's live-streaming platform sales have surpassed 680 million yuan, nearly twelves times higher than the sales from the previous two months, according to data from live-streaming tracking platform Huitun. Now, New Oriental's Dongfang Zhenxuan, literally Oriental's Selection, is one of the highest cash-earning live streaming studios on Douyin, a domestic video-sharing platform in China known internationally as Tiktok.

The stellar performance of the company in the stock market can also testify to the popularity of its new bilingual online sales approach. After the company's new strategy went viral, New Oriental Education & Technology Group staged a shock turnaround with a dramatic upsurge in its stock over many consecutive days, amid hopes that a new live-streaming strategy might salvage some of its diminished business prospects.

As one of the largest private education providers in China, the company has been hit hard by China's "double reduction" policy introduced in July 2021 aimed at easing the burden of excessive homework on Chinese youngsters and the consequent bans on off-campus subject-based curriculum tutoring for young students, with its shares having plunged and with tens of thousands of its staff having been laid off.

Facing these sweeping regulations, the company tried to keep its head above water by exploring new market ideas and pivoting to sectors unaffected by the new rules. Venturing into selling agricultural products online via live streaming is one of the self-saving approaches that the company has pursued.

"It is revolutionary for the current live-streaming industry. The growth potential could be expected," said Cai Jiaojiao, an industry insider who has worked in the live-streaming sector for five years.


(Web editor: Wu Chaolan, Liang Jun)


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