Subdued Singles’ Day Reflects China’s Evolving E-Commerce Sector
The world’s largest shopping festival reached its apex on Friday, as leading Chinese e-commerce sites and social media platforms unleashed a blitz of promotions and livestreams in their annual bid to drum up sales.
Ever since Alibaba launched the initiative in 2009, Singles’ Day, which is also known as “Double 11” (双十一) due to its occurrence on November 11, has been evolving into a unique shopping extravaganza that is now a hallmark of the burgeoning Chinese e-commerce industry.
So far, the 2022 edition of the festival has seen the continuation of recent trends and the emergence of new ones, even as lackluster consumer activity in China appears set to reduce some of its shimmer.
Analysts at Citi forecast 545 billion – 560 billion yuan in gross merchandise value, representing growth of just 0.9%-3.6%, according to a report by Reuters.
No longer exclusive to just Alibaba and its leading shopping site Taobao, the festival has grown to incorporate a broad range of firms, including one of its primary competitors, JD.com. In addition to the e-commerce juggernauts, video streaming platforms are increasingly active in promoting Singles’ Day, such as Bilibili, Kuaishou, and TikTok’s mainland China counterpart, Douyin. Even some EV firms are seeking to capitalize on the holiday spirit.
This year has seen the continued prolongation of the Singles’ Day period beyond just the day and week of November 11 itself, with many participating firms initiating related promotions as early as mid-October.
Raymond Hu, partner at EY, told Pandaily that “a longer Singles’ Day shopping period can a.) encourage consumers to diversify their purchases and b.) give more time to consumers to engage in high-priced consumption.”
Recent years have witnessed a greater willingness by firms to collaborate with one another in order to achieve win-win results. Reports emerged in late October that leading short video streaming platform Kuaishou would be restoring direct links to both Taobao and JD.com during the holiday. It is currently unclear whether these links will extend beyond the close of the holiday. Meanwhile, Bilibili is joining the livestream sales rush for this year’s Singles’ Day, adding to its existing partnerships with leading e-commerce platforms.
Even as industry giants maintain their enthusiasm, there are signs that this once exorbitant, hyper-capitalist online shopping holiday will be adopting a more sober tone for the foreseeable future. As authorities in Beijing have taken steps to strengthen China’s “real economy,” the country’s top e-commerce sites have begun to emphasize responsible consumption and tamp down on the flashy marketing rhetoric of previous years.
During a Singles’ Day-related media event on Friday afternoon themed “The Amazing Real Economy,” JD.com executives espoused the platform’s strengths in household appliances and electronics. The Citi analysts cited by Reuters anticipate that JD.com‘s sales performance in this year’s Singles’ Day will outpace that of Alibaba.
Another trend is the growing internationalization of the annual shopping holiday. Singles’ Day “is now targeting overseas consumers, such as in the UK, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore,” commented Raymond Hu. “Although overseas Chinese continue to provide the main consumption power, we have every reason to believe it will expand to a broader customer base in the years to come.”
Lazada, an e-commerce firm acquired by Alibaba in 2016, is leading the charge. The Singapore-based platform conducts operations in six Southeast Asian countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – where it is attempting to replicate Alibaba‘s success with Singles’ Day in mainland China.
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During a group media interview on Thursday afternoon, Lazada CTO Howard Wang stated that during this year’s shopping holiday, the firm expects to achieve the most “explosive” results in Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, due to local consumer behavior and advertising budgets.
However, Lazada Chief Business Officer James Chang echoed the more prudent sentiment of mainland Chinese companies during an interview with Bloomberg on Friday, saying that consumers are being more cautious in making expensive purchases as growing threats to the global economy and rising inflation take their toll.
As another Singles’ Day draws to a close, the minds of Chinese consumers might be wandering elsewhere. In light of relatively low levels of consumer passion for promotional festivities this year, a joke circulating through WeChat on Friday claimed that “the most forceful Singles’ Day activity was by the National Health Commission,” following a series of policy tweaks announced that afternoon to loosen China’s stringent COVID control measures.