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Like it or not, livestreaming is a new social media phenomenon that we need to get very well-acquainted with.

From social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to dedicated livestreaming apps like Belive and Bigo, many have attempted, and are still attempting, to find the magic formula to make the most of the format.

Personally, only a handful of livestreams have fully captured the essence of the format and convinced me that watching them is worth my data, and this recent find definitely counts as one of them.

Hong Heng Mobile Auction

Screenshot from FB Live

Their modus operandi is simple – they auction off a slew of mobile-related products (powerbanks, phone cases, headphones, even sound bars) and those following their stream start bidding for them.

The trio involved all have specific roles, and it’s clear from how smoothly each transaction is carried out.

One’s in charge of calling out the bids, one’s behind the screen, pinning the comments with the top bids and handling the backend matters, while the other’s pulling out items from their inventory.

Lasting an average of 2 and a half hours, each session sees the same bespectacled auctioneer putting items up for bidding; one after the other and without a break.

From the snippet of the session that I watched, the number of viewers fluctuated from over 60 to just over 100 – a decent enough number, but when you take into consideration that all the items he put up within the 3 minute time limit were all snapped up successfully, it’s clear that the approach is definitely working.

Screenshots of their auction

Without any minimum bidding price, commenters can start at any point they like, spurring on the auctioneer to call out for bids.

“Zero dollar start bid! Anybody want to start bid? Zero dollar anybody?”

What’s interesting to note though, is that as compared to throwing in lowball bids, starting figures are usually fair, and there’s a steady follow up after them.

But more than just encouraging bids (and occasionally singing along to songs playing in the background), the auctioneer also engages in the comments left on the chat – to hilarious results.

Speaking in a mix of Singlish, Mandarin, and a smattering of Hokkien, he banters with not just his viewers, but his 2 colleagues as well.

“Sha-an? Shin?” he muses, when a bidder with the name Shyann commented.

“Wah lao eh. Shy-an ah? He just split her name directly leh haha. Shy-an,” jeers his colleagues.

“Sorry lah!”

“You’re always doing it on purpose, and ruining people’s names.”

(*Conversation has been translated from Mandarin and tweaked for clarity)

In fact, the auctioneer’s antics are so entertaining that my colleague who was also watching the stream remarked, “Wah, I seriously can get damn addicted to watching this.”

“He doesn’t know it yet. But people are watching for him,” added another.

We Talked To The Team

But as intrigued as I was, there was a pressing question that lurked at the corner of my mind – is the use of livestreaming for auctions even legal?

I was curious to find out their thoughts about the possible implications, and also more about their rather ingenious use of Facebook Live, so I dropped them a message on their Facebook page – to which I got a speedy reply – “Sure!”

Demonstrating one of their products on auction

Why did you decide to start using Facebook Live to auction your products? Did you operate a store before this?

Actually we [had] a store at Yishun 927 [near] to the famous Laksa shop.

So why did you decide to go into livestreaming? Did you see someone else doing the same thing?

Actually we had the idea of [using Facebook Live] to sell mobile accessories from [those holding] Thai amulet Facebook bidding. But we [kept postponing] the idea for quite some time [because] there’s not much [of] a market online for bidding for mobile accessories.

But one day, we tried to do a [livestream for] close friends for fun, and there [was] great response, even though [there was] only 15 viewers for the first one.

Has there been an increase in the number of people viewing?

Yes, we started off with 15, then [it increased to] 40, 100, 200, and highest we got was 350. We actually enjoy this method of selling stuff to customers.

Yes, I think the viewers really enjoy watching you too!

Yup, it’s not about the profit and loss, it’s about the close interaction between customers and us. People like to bid online because they’re getting fame also.

Have you seen your sales increase because of livestreaming?

Definitely! We closed down the shop 2 months ago and [are doing our sales] full time online.

So your shop doesn’t exist anymore?

Nope, [because] we can’t really balance between the shop and livestreaming. When we [do livestreaming], customers will still walk in and we can’t really jaga* both livestreaming and walk-in customers (*Jaga is Malay for ‘take care of’)

How often do you livestream?

Daily except Sunday.

Do you sell more items by livestreaming or more offline?

All just sold by [livestreaming]. It may sound shocking but [we sell] at least ten times more items by livestreaming.

Do you know if need a license to operate this?

Nope, because we do the auction on Facebook platform and we only do mailing so there is no licence required.

Did you check with other shops that auction by livestreaming too?

Nope, because there are so many new Thai amulet bidding popping up.

How many of you are there on the team?

In total, there are 3 bosses – Jiazheng, Fuxiang, and Jiafeng.

Who’s the one who always does the auction?

Should be me, Jiafeng, because both of them have full time jobs.

Are all the items on auction sold by the end of the session?

[At the start], it was around 30%, but the longer we did it, the more we knew who will transfer [the money] and who will most likely ‘fly aeroplane’. So we have this rule that first time bidders [need to transfer their funds] within 15 minutes. If [they do not transfer] we will [put] the same item [up for bidding] again.

Has that method worked?

We have more serious buyers now. The sales rate is now around 95%.

Around how many items do you sell each session?

Around 40 items each night.

When would you stop livestreaming? Or will you never stop?

Haha good question, I never [thought] about it before. But I don’t think we will stop.

Let’s say if there was a rule to say that you cannot use livestreaming for auctions…

[We will go to the] pasar malam.

Or maybe an online shop?

Nope, I think we won’t have an online shop.

Are you afraid that there might be a chance that the law states that you cannot do livestreaming auctions?

Nope! [If anything, we can] find other jobs to do. It cannot be end of the world after no live bidding.

(*The interview has been edited for coherence and clarity)

May The Odds Be In Their Favour

While the phenomenon of enterprising individuals using livestreaming for auctions is rather ingenious, its legal implications are still pretty iffy.

There was much hesitation on our side before publishing, but even after reminding him about the possible flagging of their operations, Jiafeng still remained firm that it was good to go.

“Because you are also helping us get fame :)”

Interested? Catch them live from Monday to Saturday here.

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)