The marathon spending spree has for more than a decade seen China’s army of shoppers shell out colossal amounts of cash that has dwarfed the incomes of many small nations. And this year was no exception.
While "Single’s Day" - so-called for its annual 11.11 date - has long-been a 24-hour event, e-commerce giant Alibaba - which created the event in 2009 before being imitated by all of its competitors, including JD.com and Pinduoduo - has expanded it to an 11-day promotion beginning November 1.
According to Alibaba, as of Tuesday night, the group’s platforms had already processed 372.3 billion yuan ($56.5 billion) in sales over that period, more than the GDP of Iceland, Lebanon and Georgia combined.
Clearing the crisis
This year’s shopping is being closely followed around the world as a guide to the state of China’s crucial consumer sector, which is increasingly more important to the future of the world’s biggest economy.
To date, Alibaba has not provided a comparison with last year’s sales, while many economists hoped to read these figures as confirmation of the recovery of the Chinese economy after the shutdown suffered in beginning of the year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Last year, "Single’s Day" sales on Alibaba platforms alone for the 24-hour period totalled $38.4 billion, a rise of 26% compared to the previous year.
“Single’s Day originally focused on sales of certain items like beauty products and electronics,” said Melanie Sanders, Asia-Pacific head of retail for consultancy Bain & Company. “But e-commerce in China has expanded to include just about anything a consumer might purchase, including groceries, as digitally savvy Chinese opt for the convenience of online shopping. The pandemic, which has made many Chinese wary of crowds, is furthering this trend,” she said. "We’re expecting it to be another very, very strong year, another record," Sanders said. "Retail in China is largely getting back now to last year’s levels."
As the country emerges from the effects of the virus and tight lockdowns, China is expected to be the only major global economy to post positive growth this year, according to the IMF. However, the recovery in retail sales has lagged that seen in industrial sectors, but is gaining pace, analysts said.
As Alibaba, JD.com, and Pinduoduo compete aggressively for Single’s Day, Chinese regulators cast a gloom over the biggest e-commerce stretch of the year by announcing draft antitrust rules that signal a looming crackdown on high-flying internet giants.
The texts published on Tuesday outlined plans to prevent "monopolistic behaviour" among internet companies, which tend to develop captive ecosystems. Alibaba’s Taobao platform, for example, supports payments via its own Alipay rather, but not the WeChat Pay technology of rival Tencent.
Chinese tech shares tumbled for a second day Wednesday. Alibaba shed more than eight percent in Hong Kong - just a week after regulators halted an enormous IPO by its Ant Group financial arm - and rival JD.com fell a similar amount.