Hatsune Miku, a popular virtual idol and singer from Japan, has joined Alibaba’s Taobao as an ambassador for this year’s 618 midyear shopping festival, as live streaming continues to take a bigger slice of online consumption in China. Users of the e-commerce platform will be able to use their own virtual images generated on Taobao to chat, dance, or take photos together with Miku, according to a post on Taobao’s Weibo account on Monday. Miku has already ranked as one of the most popular celebrities on the platform, with over 10 million page visits and virtual gifts. Live streaming e-commerce is becoming big business in China with celebrities, tech founders and news anchors all trying it out at a time when physical shopping in malls has been discouraged by the recent health crisis. Now e-commerce platforms and brands are using virtual anime idols – preprogrammed, 3D computer-generated models that use motion graphics to live stream – to attract a younger generation of shoppers. On April 22, Chinese virtual idol Luo Tianyi joined China’s most influential live streaming host Li Jiaqi – know as the lipstick king – to work as co-hosts of a live streaming campaign on Taobao. On May 1, Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Tmall added virtual idols Luo Tianyi and Yuezheng Ling to a live-streaming event. They were displayed next to a human live streamer, and helped to describe the features of products such as coloured contact lenses, electric cookers and body washes. The live streaming session lasted roughly an hour and according to some reports it attracted 2.7 million viewers. “Virtual and interactive entertainment is a hot trend nowadays,” said a spokesperson for Taobao Live, the platform’s live streaming arm. “We are dedicated to introducing various pan-entertainment virtual hosts to enrich our content and innovate in user interactions.” The fandom economy is a fast-growing market in China, with fans largely comprised of those born in the 1990s and after. According to Beijing-based market research company QuestMobile, China’s consumers spent over 40 billion yuan (US$5.65 billion) on idols in 2018, and in 2020, around 390 million people are following, or say they plan to follow virtual idols. A March report by streaming site iQiyi estimated that by the end of 2020, China’s Generation Z is going to account for 40 per cent of all the country’s consumers. Alibaba Group Holding is the parent company of South China Morning Post.