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China’s Singles Day sales festival wraps up with e-commerce giants reporting sales growth

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Published Nov 11, 2023 08:48PM ET Updated Nov 11, 2023 09:40PM ET

China's Singles Day sales festival wraps up with e-commerce giants reporting sales growth © Reuters. A person walks past a JD.com’s advertisement promoting Singles Day shopping festival, at a subway station in Beijing, China October 26, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

By Casey Hall

SHANGHAI (Reuters) -Alibaba Group reported that its Chinese e-commerce platforms Tmall and Taobao recorded “positive” year-on-year growth over this year’s Singles Day sales period, which wrapped up at midnight on Saturday. Meanwhile competitor JD (NASDAQ:).com said its festival GMV (gross merchandising volume) hit a “record high” over the sales period. Originally a 24-hour online shopping event held on Nov. 11 each year in China, the ‘Singles Day’ festival – a nod to the digits in the date – has expanded into weeks of promotions across the country’s major e-commerce platforms and in brick-and-mortar stores. This year marked the second time Alibaba (NYSE:) has not disclosed the actual yuan value of its sales for its landmark festival, which this year celebrated its 15th anniversary. Last year, when sales were hit by continuing COVID curbs across China, was the first. The festival is closely watched as a gauge of consumer confidence, and expectations for sales growth this year have been subdued, as the economy has been flirting with deflation while making an unsteady recovery.

E-commerce giant Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce player by market share, had put pressure on merchants to offer rock-bottom prices this Singles Day, announcing at the outset of the festival in late October that it would offer 80 million products at their lowest prices this year for the blockbuster event. That move was seen as a way to fight back against rivals such as Douyin and PDD Holdings’ Pinduoduo (NASDAQ:) which have changed the landscape of Chinese e-commerce in recent years by selling lower-cost and discounted items year-round. Steep discounts of 40-50% were much more common than in previous years as a result. A Bain and Company report released last week found that 77% of the 3,000 consumers it surveyed had planned to spend less or the same on Singles Day compared with last year.

Bain saw shoppers spending on necessities such as tissues, handwash, instant noodles and pet food, while at the same time trading down and buying less in discretionary or big-ticket categories such as home appliances and furniture. Last year, the total value of goods sold during the shopping bonanza totaled 1.15 trillion yuan ($157.97 billion), according to Bain. Though several consultancies were predicting Singles Day GMV growth across platforms would reach anywhere from 14% to 18% – returning to double-digit growth for the first time since the pandemic – the final sales picture will take longer to energe. These GMV figures take into account the value of all orders placed, and will not capture the amount that will be returned later. Analysts and industry executives expect return rates to be high this year as consumers buy more in order to obtain larger discounts on checkout, only to return the items they don’t need. Items related to health and wellness and outdoor lifestyles were expected to outperform, with global brands such as Nike (NYSE:) and Lululemon (NASDAQ:) expected to sell well. Alibaba reported that sales of road bikes jumped 300% during the first hour of sales. Colour cosmetics, traditionally a strong performer throughout the Singles Day sales period, were expected to struggle this year as make-up demand remains low almost a year after China lifted strict COVID-19 restrictions.

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