Despite the slowdown in consumption during the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese shoppers spent US$139.1 billion on this year’s annual Singles’ Day shopping event, breaking last year’s record.
The company said on Thursday that Alibaba spent 540.3 billion yuan ($84.5 billion) during the holiday period from November 1 to November 11, an increase of 14%, compared with an increase of nearly 93% last year.
Competitor JD.com reported that from October 31 to November 11, this year’s transaction volume was 349.1 billion yuan (54.6 billion U.S. dollars), an increase of approximately 28% from 32% in 2020.
The slowdown in growth of the world’s largest online shopping festival (which usually ends on November 11th) is due to reduced marketing hype and a blow to the technology industry.
Singles’ Day is regarded as the biggest online marketing campaign of the year. In previous years, the festival carried out a lot of advertising a few weeks in advance, and brands and merchants offered large discounts to attract consumers looking for bargains.
But shoppers say that the steep discounts, also known as “Double Eleven”, are now a thing of the past, and experts predict that as the economy slows, sales will fall.
This year, Alibaba, the e-commerce platform that pioneered the online shopping festival more than ten years ago, decided not to display its real-time gross merchandise (GMV) operating record, which is defined as the transaction volume of the entire network. Compared with the dazzling marketing activities of previous years, its platform, on its shopping festival website, has adopted a more low-key tone.
Chinese regulators have cracked down on technology companies and investigated the alleged anti-competitive behavior of giants such as Alibaba and food delivery company Meituan.
Earlier this year, Alibaba was fined US$2.8 billion for violating antitrust regulations. On the eve of Singles’ Day, companies such as Alibaba, JD.com, and Meituan were all required to restrict excessive marketing text messages to consumers during Double Eleven.
Last week, the regulator in the southern province of Guangdong also subpoenaed 16 e-commerce platform operators, some of which were connected to Alibaba and Meituan, and warned them of “unfair competition”.
The platform is also controlling marketing hype to match Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for “common prosperity”, including curbing excess and advocating a fairer distribution of wealth and resources.
“The decision not to publish real-time GMV statistics shows that China’s major e-commerce platforms believe that this consumption display is inconsistent with the current theme of’common prosperity’,” said Michael Norris, research strategy manager at AgencyChina, a Shanghai consulting firm.
“Although not publishing real-time GMV statistics may calm local sentiment, if it is not managed well, it may scare foreign investors who are already worried about Alibaba’s growth prospects,” he said.
Online retailer JD.com also did not publicly release sales statistics for this year. But it held a media event on Thursday, and a counter showed that as of 2 pm local time, shoppers had spent more than $48 billion.
Although it is not uncommon for consumers to use large discounts to hoard necessities during Double Eleven in the past, their consumption habits have changed.
Due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic and weakening demand, Singles Day is now competing with other e-commerce festivals throughout the year.
“2021 will be a troubled year, with multiple epidemics, slowing economic growth, and poor stock market performance,” said Beijing resident Hua Wei.
“These make people a little panic. After all, if you hold your money, you have a stronger sense of security,” she said. “I think people are now more rational in terms of consumption.”
Another shopper, Jiang Chen, said that this year he suppressed impulse shopping and only bought what he needed.
“I don’t think it is necessary to waste time and energy just to save some money, so the things I buy are the things I need,” he said, such as snacks and fruits.
Jiang seemed to be pleased with the low-key attitude of the festival.
He said: “I hope that in the future (Double Eleven) there will be less exaggerated publicity and hype, and the discount will be greater.”
Meng Xiaolu, a sales manager who lives in the eastern province of Zhejiang, said that most of her shopping budget this month was spent on Singles’ Day cosmetics and clothes sales.
She said: “Because of the pandemic, I cannot travel and take vacations, so all I can do is find some fun in online shopping.” “I think Double Eleven shopping has become a habit of young people.”