black and white photo of two people standing back to back, behind them is a red shape and above their heads are stylised plant emojis

This week: in a special on social commerce in China, we talk to our guest Kishi Pan about the unique experience of Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book.

Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week

02:46 – How influencers and social commerce in China are different to the West

Xiaohongshu, also known as RED (Chinese: 小红书; pinyin: xiǎohóngshū; lit.: ‘Little Red Book’)

What is Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) and why are global brands jumping on it?

Our previous discussion of influencers on Corona Business Insights

Our previous discussion of email on The Future This Week

Our previous discussion of live streaming sales on The Future This Week

Our previous discussion of the proposed TikTok and WeChat ban and the fragmented internet on The Future This Week

Chinese companies blur the line between content and commerce

Xiaohongshu is the world’s largest lifestyle platform

Chinese shopping-review app RED shows the future of online shopping experience

Tencent and Alibaba-backed Little Red Book seeks US$6 billion valuation

Louis Vuitton trials livestreaming with China’s Xiaohongshu

Xiaohongshu bids to reinvent itself

KOL (influencer) marketing

Our previous discussion of TikTok with Barney Tan on The Future This Week

Xiaohongshu helps the Chinese beauty industry

How brands can leverage Xiaohongshu

Follow the show on Apple PodcastsSpotifyOvercastGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow Sydney Business Insights on Flipboard, LinkedInTwitter and WeChat to keep updated with our latest insights.

Our theme music was composed and played by Linsey Pollak.

Send us your news ideas to

Dr Sandra Peter is the Director of Sydney Executive Plus at the University of Sydney Business School. Her research and practice focuses on engaging with the future in productive ways, and the impact of emerging technologies on business and society.

Kai Riemer is Professor of Information Technology and Organisation, and Director of Sydney Executive Plus at the University of Sydney Business School. Kai's research interest is in Disruptive Technologies, Enterprise Social Media, Virtual Work, Collaborative Technologies and the Philosophy of Technology.

Kishi Pan is the China Analyst at Sydney Business Insights and a Senior OPS Manager at Huafa Industrial Shares. Her research interest is in urbanisation and the relationship between technology and people.


We believe in open and honest access to knowledge. We use a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives licence for our articles and podcasts, so you can republish them for free, online or in print.

Intro We'd like to advise that the following program may contain real news, occasional philosophy and ideas that may offend some listeners.

Sandra So there is no banter today this is really, really serious.

Kai It is.

Sandra We wanted to pick up on an episode we did on Corona Business Insights, looking at influencers.

Sandra When we discussed how COVID-19 impacted on influencers, we got to the point where people on Taobao were selling rocket launchers for $6 million. And we opened the lid to this weird and wonderful box of social influencers in China. And we said, we really need to look into this a bit more.

Sandra And in particular, the platform Xiaohongshu, also known as Little Red Book, or RED in English, that seemingly has hundreds of millions of subscribers. It's one of the things that a lot of Gen Z and Millennials spend half their day on, and we had never even heard about it.

Kai So we decided to look into this and talk about social commerce in China, in particular, Xiaohongshu. And we looked for new stories.

Sandra And lo and behold, in the last seven days on Google in English, there were no news stories on this. And let's make it clear, this platform has as many users as Amazon, around 300 million active users.

Kai And so it is really a big deal in China. It is a platform that is at the forefront of new ways of consuming, selling, doing all kinds of things. And that's really the point here.

Sandra So we decided to go back to the news story that we had on the Corona Business Insights episode from the South China Morning Post, titled "How 'see now, buy now' culture and superior social media apps put Chinese influencers way ahead of those in the West", and we decided to have a look at the platform itself. Unfortunately, it was all in Chinese.

Kai Which turned out to be a very short-lived affair. So while the app itself has an English translation, all the content is in Chinese. So all we could do is look at some photos. So clearly we needed help.

Kishi Here I come to your rescue.

Sandra So today on the podcast we welcome Kishi.

Kishi Hello.

Kai So Kishi Pan has been a lecturer with the University of Sydney Business School for the past...

Kishi Five years.

Sandra And of course, she's also our China analyst in Sydney Business Insights.

Kai And it turns out that Kishi lives her life, at least partly, on Xiaohongshu.

Kishi Indeed, it's my guilty pleasure.

Sandra So today a three-way conversation around social commerce apps RED, Xiaohongshu, in particular with...

Kai Well, with Kishi Pan. Welcome Kishi

Kai Thank you.

Kai Okay, let's do it.

Sandra This is The Future, This Week from Sydney Business Insights. I'm Sandra Peter.

Kai And I'm Kai Riemer. Every week we sit down to rethink and unlearn trends in technology and business.

Sandra We discuss the news of the week, question the obvious, explore the weird and the wonderful and things that change the world.

Sandra So Kishi, thank you for joining us.

Kishi Thank you for having me.

Sandra So in order to talk about social commerce, we need to untangle a little bit what's happening in the space of social media apps and e-commerce apps, and it's a bit easier if we start with the ones that we use here.

Kai So we will compare commerce and social media in the West with platforms in the East. And we will ultimately see that that comparison breaks down, and that will also guide the discussion going forward. Why things in China have emerged in a way that doesn't really compare to the West.

Sandra And we'll try to have a look at what can the West learn from Chinese companies. We know a lot about the weaknesses, or maybe the way in which we see some Chinese companies copying practices in the West, but the story is actually quite different. And there's quite a bit to be learned from an entire ecosystem that is actually much more mature. But I'm getting ahead of myself. So what would be some of the social media and e-commerce apps that we use in the West? Kai, what do you use?

Kai So obviously, you know, if I want to buy something go to Amazon, go to eBay. These would be large platforms where you buy things. In terms of social media, obviously, we've got Facebook, we've got Instagram. There's other content platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, those would be your big platforms that you would use, and they offer distinct experiences. So one is for content, one is for purchasing stuff, one is for social, and the linkages between them are fairly lightweight.

Sandra Kishi, you've been living in Australia for many years now, you've lived in Europe before that. What platforms do you use?

Kishi Well, I use every platform that Kai has just mentioned. And a few more. I'm looking at my phone right now. I have, besides Amazon, eBay, of course, Taobao. I have Tmall. I have also Xianyu you which is a spinoff by Taobao that you sell and buy second-hand goods.

Kai So these are big commerce platforms in China, where you would go when you're really wanting to purchase something, right?

Kishi Indeed, yes. With a clear goal in mind.

Sandra So Taobao, Tmall, something like AliExpress, they would all be kind of like Amazon and eBay.

Kishi Kind of.

Kai And we'll come back to that. But what other Chinese apps do you use?

Kishi I have also social media apps. WeChat is probably the one that consumes most of the battery in my phone, which I spend a lot of time on talking to my family and friends back home in China.

Kai And we've talked about WeChat before on the podcast, just recently in the context of the Trump administration wanting to ban Chinese apps. WeChat plays a big part in connecting overseas Chinese people with their homeland, so quite obviously, really important.

Sandra And we'll include the links in the shownotes. We'll also include another episode in which we spent quite a bit of time with our colleague Barney Tan going into what WeChat is, because you don't just talk to your parents on it, right?

Kishi No. No, I also stay linked to my friends here who uses WeChat. As we know that in Sydney, Australia, we have a huge Chinese community. So I have a lot of friends who I see frequently here in Sydney, who also has a WeChat account. Some of the businesses, restaurants, beauty clinic that I go to, they have their WeChat account. I use WeChat also to book an appointment with them, for example.

Kai And of course, you would be using WeChat even more intensely if you were living in China, because you can do just about anything on that app, right?

Kishi Definitely. Yes, I actually forgot to mention WeChat Pay. As you may know, many of the Australian merchants, the stores here, accept payments via WeChat or Alipay.

Kai Because of the large influx of Chinese tourists, not this year, but hopefully next year again.

Kishi Hopefully next year. Yes.

Sandra So WeChat is not just a chat application, but it has frictionless mobile payments. It allows you to publish content, it allows you to advertise online, to conduct business online. But also if you were in China, to pay your fines or access school records or read menus at restaurants or pay at restaurants or book things online.

Kai So, we know that there are some distinct Chinese social media platforms, I know of Weibo for example, or Douyin which is the equivalent to TikTok. Do you use any of those, Kishi?

Kishi Yes, I spend a lot of time on Weibo. This is also because of my job with Sydney Business Insights. I'm a China analyst at SBI, so one of the things I do do on a daily basis is to look out for trending hot topic about China business tech. So Weibo, I know in the West you tend to describe it as the Chinese version of Twitter. A little bit, kind of, but on Weibo, you can find what's hot, what's going on, the trending hashtags, what are the Chinese netizens, the Chinese people talking and discussing about? So I use that on a daily basis as well, just to stay in the loop. Personally, I don't use Douyin, because it can be a time rob.

Sandra So that's the Chinese version of TikTok. Well actually to be fair, TikTok is the Western version of Douyin.

Kai Correct.

Kishi Yes, I prefer the second description as well. So I personally don't use Douyin. My dad used to Douyin a lot, and he shares a lot of really funny, quirky videos with me on a daily basis.

Kai But then there's this one app that we got really interested in. And that's Xiaohongshu.

Kishi Yes, I got really interested in it as well, in the sense that I do interact with it frequently, and oftentimes for a long time.

Sandra What's a long time?

Kishi Um, I prefer not to say, but let's say it's, you know, around a good chunk of a couple of hours, perhaps.

Kai So we measure it in hours, not minutes.

Sandra So I think it's important to unpack a bit what it is because again, in the West, we try to use what we know and we say, well, it's Amazon meets Pinterest meets Instagram, but it is the biggest social e-commerce network. So, Kishi what is it? What do you do on it?

Kishi Well, the time when I really found RED or Xiaohongshu's value to me was two/three years ago, I was trying to look for a makeup product that suits my skin type. I asked around my friends, they all had different experiences, I couldn't quite consolidate it, it was only two or three opinions. So I asked them 'well where should be a place where I look for more, or more extensive opinions, of customer interactions with products?' And they referred me to RED, Xiaohongshu. I downloaded it. Wow. So I had a clear idea in my mind that I want to purchase makeup foundation. I went on Xiaohongshu, type in foundation. And it gave me a list of options, gave me rankings, gave me based on skin type people's recommendations. Not only did it give me pictures of what that product looks like once applied, it also has extensive paragraphs of genuine, authentic users experience with the product.

Sandra So this is not just like an Instagram experience where I see a pretty picture of Kim Kardashian using the foundation, but just extensive written text about people using it.

Kishi Exactly. And you actually stay and look through the whole text as opposed to quickly scrolling it away.

Kai I saw an article where it was described almost as consumer science, where people actually look at the ingredients and they compare ingredients across products. So they really go very deep into what these products are made of.

Kishi Yes, definitely. So one of the accounts I do follow is actually a scientist that breaks down similar products and does pros and cons, comparisons in terms of ingredients, whether it's suited for pregnant women or not, skin types, all kinds of information that you find in it, and they tend to do a whole series of content like this, based on requirements by their followers,

Kai But it's not just products right? Say we would want to go for lunch after this recording, you could find good places on RED.

Kishi Definitely, RED has a very powerful location-based algorithm that can help me to easily search for experiences or stores nearby my location. Say for example, you want to go for a steak. I then go to my Little Red Book, and then find 'nearby', and then search for 'steak'. You then find users who most likely in very recent times had dined in a steak restaurant nearby Redfern area, with pictures, with their descriptions of their evaluations of their interactions with the restaurant, with the booking process, with waiters and waitresses. Really authentic experience from people who truly experience the restaurant the way you're about to.

Kai So this feels very different to Yelp would feel where you just have a restaurant listing with a list of reviews. You actually go the other way, right? You find the reviews and then the restaurant from there?

Kishi Definitely. Yes, you start the process, you start the interest in a certain experience or product online, and then you have to take that offline to complete that process. For me personally, if I write a review on Yelp, or on Google, it feels laboursome. It's a laboursome process to write a review, because it's not fun for me. But however, if I write about my experience in a certain restaurant, or in a certain store on RED, it's a completely different experience. I make it interactive and people review my reviews by providing their experiences in the set restaurant.

Kai So this really sounds like you're taking the whole thing on its head. In Western platforms, you would start with the product or you start with the restaurant. And then you tack a little bit of user-generated content, the social, on top of that. This sounds to me like a completely social experience that revolves around products, where the social aspect comes first.

Sandra And it's about my experience first, not about the restaurant.

Kishi Indeed.

Sandra And this has some really, really interesting implications because then if it is about my experience, it can be about my experience of anything, not just what the platform gives me, whether that's restaurants or beauty parlours, or it can be anything that I am experiencing in my life.

Kishi So yes, indeed. It's not just about the fun and light-hearted beautiful stuff. It's also about quite serious, right. So my family is in China. And this has been the longest time since I last saw them, it was over 10 months ago. So trying to go home and trying to go to China in the midst of a pandemic can be quite challenging, as many of you guys might know. So recently, the Chinese government has placed a requirement on travellers departing from Australia into China having to obtain a negative COVID test result prior to departure, 72 hours prior to departure to be specific. Now, the 72 hours can be very vaguely interpreted, so I wasn't quite sure, was it 72 hours before departure that I should take the test? Or 72 hours in which I should get the result of the test? I went on Xiaohongshu, and unsurprisingly, I found dozens and dozens of people who were in the same situation and shared their experiences of obtaining a report and submitting that to the Chinese consulate here, gaining travel permission and successfully travelled back to Shanghai or Guangzhou, and are now in hotel quarantine, those are what I see as authentic experiences that I can confidently rely on when it becomes my turn to do it.

Sandra So collective sense-making of regulation that can often be vague, and that is updated in real-time by a large collective of people using or experiencing the same process.

Kai So this is really interesting. When I hear the term social commerce. I immediately think commerce that is somewhat social, but here really the social is what leads and then commerce comes off the back of that. So you really read the word very differently. And Kishi, I'm really interested to know about this experience I read about. I read about these words, 'seed, grow, weed 'as describing a typical Xiaohongshu experience. You need to explain that to me.

Kishi I think just going off on what you were talking about. Commerce is a fun experience, but only at the moment of purchasing. But I think adding the social element to it, for me, prolongs that fun process. Social is fun. Social e-commerce is a brilliant way for me to combine the fun part of interacting with other users and spending that money, right, that moment of swiping your credit card or confirming that payment on Alibaba. And so the weed term you were talking about has been popular in China for quite a number of years. So remember when I talked about that makeup foundation, right? I may have set my eyes on a specific brand, but I wasn't quite sure. Going on Xiaohongshu, seeing different people sharing the experience of using that specific product is a process of what we call, or what Chinese netizens call 'planting a seed'. It's like planting a seed of grass in your head. That idea then of course grows and blossoms as we know weed does. So planting a seed, grow a seed, and eventually, maybe you actually really tried or used that product, you found 'oh well, it doesn't really meet my high expectations for it', hence, I unplug it from my head. Or I found maybe it's beyond what my budget can afford, I have to give up that idea for very real reasons. And that's also another way of unplugging the idea from your head.

Kai So what I hear you say is that you really make this discovery process, a social, fun, experiential research process. And that's really what Little Red Book, Xiaohongshu, is all about.

Kishi Yes, absolutely. And I think seeing the experience from someone else who is also a consumer is much more enticing than seeing just an advertisement from the merchant themselves.

Kai So it's not just about your own experience, you follow other people's experience, you comment on that. So it's all really intertwined?

Kishi Yes, it's a very tight and loyal community that I would describe.

Sandra So this really, really doesn't sound like Amazon meets Pinterest meets Instagram. But before we go into a bit more detail into how these are not just surface differences, and why we find it really difficult to wrap our heads around this completely different ecosystem that exists in China, we should say a few more words around how RED started, because it wasn't always this experience. It was initially actually something quite different.

Kishi Yes, so Little Red Book, or Xiaohongshu, was founded in 2013 by Mao Wenchao and Qu Fang. Both are graduates of Stanford University. So they initially intended to set up a community for Chinese people or Chinese tourists. Back then many international brands didn't have as much presence the way that they do now in China. So the platform was initially intended as a great way to introduce these international brands and overseas shopping experience to Chinese consumers in China. And this then grew to something else. So initially, and still now, the majority of the users on Xiaohongshu are upper middle class women aged between 18 to 35. Highly educated, many of them, and living in Tier 1, Tier 2 cities in China. This is incredibly lucrative a market for international fashion and beauty brands.

Kai So this is how it started out, right? So the platform would connect Chinese customers to overseas people, that would then ship the brands, the platform would then create its own e-commerce offering for those brands and stock them to speed up the purchasing process. But from there it has evolved into something very different now and it has Chinese brands, it's got everything on it right?

Kishi Indeed, as you said. So unlike other e-commerce platforms, Xiaohongshu started out as a community, right. At the beginning there were sharing overseas shopping experience, beauty, makeup and personal care. But now you're seeing information sharing around sports, around dieting, fitness, travel, home, hotels, and the restaurants appearing on Xiaohongshu and the community has become bigger and bigger. And this is something very difficult to replicate.

Kai But the interesting thing I find is that while you start with this genuine authentic social experience around products, commerce is only ever a click away, right? You don't actually have to necessarily leave and go other places. Even though living here in Sydney, a lot of the extra purchases might happen in-store, commerce is tightly integrated with the platform, right?

Kishi Yes, as a registered brand you can certainly set up your own store on Xiaohongshu and Xiaohongshu also have the live-streaming function.

Kai Which brings us to KOL, key opinion leaders, or back to the influencers that we started out with. And interestingly, while on many social media platforms, it is all about the KOL, the opinion leaders, Xiaohongshu has surfaced a different concept, the KOC. What's that about?

Kishi So key opinion customers. In my personal understanding comparing two KOL, KOC can be something very personal and very specific to users themselves. KOL, key opinion leaders can be an influencer by any standard. But a KOC might be a KOC only to me because he or she is promoting a product that I'm really interested in.

Kai And so it really blurs the boundary between people who make their living from being an influencer to everyday customers becoming small-scale influencers.

Sandra And that is how you end up today with a company with 300 million users at any time with 100 million active users, valued at $6 billion. So one of the few companies that both Alibaba and Tencent invested in at the same time. So just to put this into context, this would be like Amazon, and Facebook or Google co-investing in a startup.

Kai So Xiaohongshu, Little Red Book is truly a very different experience, a very different platform that doesn't really have a true equivalent in the West. And so we want to look more broadly beneath the surface, and not just look at the different user experience, but look at how we actually talk about those differences between e-commerce social commerce in the West and the East, how it has evolved and what this actually means for our understanding of those differences.

Sandra And there's a couple of points we need to make today and first is exactly that, point out that we actually do find it very difficult to talk about what is going on in this ecosystem in China because we do try to apply the categories that we use to understand the internet in the West to the Chinese experience. It's like Instagram or it's like Pinterest meets Amazon.

Kai And the first such thing is the term 'Internet' itself. So we've talked about this on the podcast previously, this fragmentation where the online experience in places like India and China is now very different to what it is in the West. For example, in the West the Internet emerged from the World Wide Web, which is essentially the web browser. And other experiences like mobile and apps on the back of that came later, but the web browser is still in many ways the go to place to consume the Internet. Now Kishi, what's the significance of the web browser in China?

Kishi I would say currently, it's next to none. The closest we would get to a web browser is when I open my app of Baidu and try to find out about something. But as we know, Baidu is by no means the ultimate content aggregator the way that Google is.

Kai So what then would you do when you want to find information?

Kishi Well, you'd have to be more specific about information. Say if I want to find out about makeup, beauty, fashion brands, I'm likely going to Xiaohongshu. If I'm looking for what movie I should watch with my friends tonight, I'm probably going to Douban to look for movie recommendations. If I'm looking for a specific product. I know what I'm going to buy, I'm going to Taobao or Tmall, or if I simply want to talk to my parents, I'm going to WeChat. Well, if I want to look for what is trending in China, in general, in any field, I'm going to Weibo.

Kishi What strikes me is that we would Google everything in the first instance. So we go to a corporation. In many instances your search experience is a very social one, you're looking for recommendations from other people.

Kishi Yes, absolutely. It's much more social.

Sandra Which points to one of the other reasons we find it difficult to understand what's going on, in that the way we consume the Internet here versus how the Internet is consumed in China is very, very different. Take streaming sales, for instance.

Kai So we've previously talked about on the podcast where Taobao has pushed streaming into rural communities where farmers are selling apples, oranges, potatoes via streaming experiences.

Kishi So unfortunately, I can't speak to that as I haven't bought oranges or potatoes online, maybe in the future in China. But there is a vintage store that I do constantly frequent on Xiaohongshu that is based in Shanghai and they diligently every night do live streaming and they sell their products through their three hour live-streaming session. So how this happens is basically they line up a list of products, where audience or consumers can click into, and then suggest an item, for the key opinion leaders or the key opinion consumers to explain through. As a consumer, you can purchase that product there and then in the middle of a streaming session, payment's done and the products shipped to you right when the streaming finishes.

Kai So this is really interesting. It's almost like you're substituting the movie that you would watch with watching this live stream where you have the social aspect integrated with the commerce as a seamless experience. So they're really all mashed up into one experience, right?

Sandra And it's, of course, not just Xiaohongshu, it's not just streaming sales. It's many different ways of combining entertainment with advertising, with shopping, with serendipitous discovery. We've seen for instance Taobao creating a series of webisodes, a food-focused series called '1001 Nights', which was a smash hit, which sold over half a million dumplings in just over a few hours.

Kai So what we're talking about is fully integrated social commerce, entertainment experiences that really defy any categories that we have in the West. And so if we try to make sense of the Chinese internet experience with our categories, this is the Chinese something, you know, Amazon, eBay, Google, what have you not, we're really missing what is unique, what is different, what is special about the way in which these platforms have emerged in China. And that presents a problem.

Sandra In that quite often we end up noticing weaknesses that some of these companies might have. We point to things like...

Kai Baidu is not as good as Google. But then we heard it's really not important because the entire experience is different.

Sandra Or discussing issues of censorship or of copying certain characteristics from Western companies, but we miss out entirely on what these companies do uniquely differently. And we miss out on the strengths that these companies might have.

Kai Because it doesn't occur to us to ask these questions. When we compare Little Red Book with Pinterest, for example, or with Amazon, or with Instagram, we might focus on certain of its features. But we completely miss how the lifestyle of using this in the daily life of Chinese consumers has turned this into something that really doesn't have an equivalent in the West.

Sandra And we've consistently done this over the last few years. Take email, for example, and we'll put the link in the shownotes to an episode where we discuss how come there is no email in China. In the West, we cannot conceive of not having an email address or pretty much not checking it every hour or so.

Kai But in the West, the Internet has emerged on the computer with the web browser with email. In the Chinese context, the internet emerged as mobile first. So communication practices and the apps around it are very different. So Kishi, is email a common way of communicating in Chinese workplaces?

Kishi Well, email is there. But it's definitely not the only or not even the main means of communication for most of the companies. For example, a friend of mine is a CEO in a company in China. He doesn't use emails, as management. But people in the company do communicate with each other using emails, but certainly not main means of communication.

Sandra So what would they use on a normal day-to-day basis if we wanted to talk with other people on our team?

Kishi As far as I know, most commonly WeChat or DingTalk.

Kai So we see these sometimes subtle, sometimes stark differences across all of the various categories that we would use in the West. But it doesn't end there. We also tend to miss the ways in which innovation happens in the Eastern context.

Sandra So with a Western perspective, we often tend to see these apps as copying WhatsApp or a combination of Google, Facebook and Amazon and WhatsApp, rather than considering them on their own terms, seeing that Tencent created WeChat and cannibalised its own messaging app, QQ.

Kai Yeah, it didn't quite copy from WhatsApp. It had the technology, the knowledge of a chat app in-house. And let's not forget that what started as a chat app has morphed into really this operating system for living your life, because WeChat does just about everything these days.

Kishi I would describe WeChat as just as important as the smartphone in your hand, if you are in China. To share with you a little story, I was traveling from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou, it’s about a nine hour drive and through mountainous range. Our car made a stop and my friend wanted to buy mandarins from an old gentleman who was selling them on the street side. He couldn’t even speak the standard Putonghua, the standard Mandarin, but he had a QR code next to his oranges. All my friend needed to do, they didn’t even have to communicate or understand each other. My friend picked up a few oranges, scanned the QR code, asked the man to type in the number. And that’s it, it was done.

Sandra So WeChat is not just everything, but it's everything to everyone. It's inclusive to a point that no Western app has managed to achieve at this point. It can bring in disadvantaged communities, people who don't even need to be literate to be able to use it. When we were over in China, we saw street performers, buskers using it to collect money.

Kai So classing it as just a chat app, or just an app, really misses the point of how important, how integrated it is into many of the life practices in China.

Sandra And this points to the fact that in many ways, the Chinese ecosystem is a much more mature one, that now tends to be leading rather than following and copying. And we're already seeing copies of Chinese practices or Chinese apps in the West. The easiest example might be TikTok, which is a version of Douyin.

Kai And the interest that Walmart has shown, for example, in purchasing TikTok because they're interested in learning from and importing some of the unique social commerce practices that have emerged in China. And mind you, TikTok being just a tiny fraction of these practices, Little Red Book goes far beyond that when it comes to social commerce experience.

Sandra And it also points to how important understanding context and really understanding how these apps function in China is. Because many of these attempts to copy things that are quite successful, like indeed RED, have failed quite dismally in a Western context. Remember Amazon Spark?

Kai Amazon Spark, I've heard of it, but never seen it.

Sandra It was meant to be something similar to RED, launched about three years ago with social feeds similar to Instagram, where people could listen to review products and leading them back to Amazon. But it failed dismally.

Kai Which goes to show that just copying features or just copying the technological aspects of these apps will not be enough to really ignite the kind of lifestyle practices that we see in China. So what we need is a much more genuine engagement with these different cultural practices that are intertwined with technology, to learn from that, and then maybe grow equivalents in the West that do not just copy, but actually find a similar experience that fits the cultural context over here.

Sandra And this could provide real business advantages in places like Australia. We've seen for instance, many farmers during the COVID pandemic going on their own selling their products online via their website. While in China live streaming where many farmers sell their products and services is worth about 100 and $30 billion in Australia, there is really no platform for people to engage in similar activities.

Kai So the point here really is that we must proactively try to understand these differences in experience bottom-up, by genuinely engaging with what it's like to actually be immersed in the practices that these Chinese apps create. We can't just look at them in terms of our categories or our experiences.

Sandra And we must stress how difficult this is. And this is one of the reasons we're doing episodes like this one, because we, for instance, could not wrap our heads around Xiaohongshu or RED on our own. We needed people like Kishi to help us make sense of it.

Kai And this is where we want to thank you Kishi for coming onto the podcast and sharing with us your experience and how you use and engage with Xiaohongshu.

Kishi  Thank you for having me. I had a lot of fun. And I think it's quite important for people to talk to others like me, who are active users of these platforms, of these services, despite not being in China.

Sandra Which is a very good point you're making Kishi, because that is one of the ways we can do this, by engaging with users who are using these apps. In Australia they are using them as an interface to Australian and local businesses in Sydney. So we'll be using Little Red Book, Xiaohongshu to decide where we go for lunch next.

Kai And that really is all we have time for today.

Sandra Thanks, Kishi.

Kishi Thanks for having me.

Kai Thanks, Kishi. Thanks, everyone. If you liked the episode, as always go and leave us a review or tell a friend about it.

Sandra Maybe even on RED.

Kishi Even on RED.

Sandra Thanks for listening.

Kai Thanks for listening. See you next week.

Sandra On The Future, This Week.

Megan Sandra Peter is the Director of Sydney Business Insights. Kai Riemer is Professor of Information Technology and Organisation here at the University of Sydney Business School.

Outro With us every week is our sound editor Megan Wedge and our theme music was played live on a set of garden hoses by Linsey Pollak. You can subscribe to The Future, This Week wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any weird and wonderful topics for us, send them to

Kai Xiao hong shu?

Kishi Yes. sounds good.

Sandra Xiaohongshu.

Kai Xiao hong shu.

Kishi You can be more relaxed.

Kai Xiao hong shu.

Kishi Xiaohongshu.

Kai Xiaohongshu.

Sandra Xiaohongshu.

Kai Xiaohongshu. Are you recording this?

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