Final stretch of China Singles Day shopping festival lacks sales oomph

November 11, 2022 - 5:37 PM
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Singles' Day in China
A delivery worker sorts parcels at a makeshift logistics station ahead of Alibaba's Singles' Day shopping festival, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China, November 10, 2022. (Reuters/Aly Song)

SHANGHAI — Alibaba Group Holding and other Chinese e-commerce firms holding Singles Day shopping events together logged a 4.7% decline in sales for the first 12 hours of the final day, a research firm said.

The estimate from consultancy Syntun was in line with subdued expectations for this year’s Singles Day — the world’s biggest online shopping festival that has despite its name evolved into a multi-week event and is a key barometer of Chinese retail demand.

Analysts have forecast flat or only slight growth in sales for Alibaba, noting that Chinese consumer sentiment is at a low ebb — hit hard by the country’s stringent COVID curbs and a sharply slowing economy.

The e-commerce giant has also not held its usual celebrity-studded gala show. That’s part of an effort to play down hype around the event as Chinese President Xi Jinping increasingly emphasises “common prosperity” — a push that seeks to eliminate growing wealth inequities and clamp down on what the Communist Party sees as excessive behaviours.

Not all the early data has pointed to sales declines. Syntun estimated a 5.7% increase in gross merchandise value (GMV) during the first four days to November 3 across the e-commerce platforms.

But expectations are widespread that this will be the weakest year for GMV growth ever.

Citi analysts said this week they were conservatively forecasting Alibaba’s GMV for the event to range between 545 billion yuan and 560 billion yuan ($75 billion-$77 billion), growth of 0.9% to 3.6%.

That compares with an 8.5% rise last year and a 26% jump in 2020. Before 2020, the festival was a one-day event.

But they predicted rival JD.com would fare somewhat better as it is strong in consumer electronics and home appliance offerings which are expected to remain popular.

Alibaba and JD.com did not respond to requests for comment on their overall GMV outlook. They are expected to give final tallies after midnight Friday.

Brands performing well included Apple Inc, with JD.com saying there had been 1 billion yuan in turnover for the U.S. tech firm’s products in the first minute of the event’s final sales period on Thursday evening which is marked by deeper discounts.

During the first 10 minutes of this period, turnover for 87 international beauty brands, including Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and L’Occitane, tripled from last year, it also said.

Alibaba said sales of high-tech beauty devices such as gadgets to cool and lift facial skin had surged some 5,570% from last year, while carpet cleaners and smart kitchen appliances had also been selling extremely well.

Yang Zengdong, 40, a teacher in Shanghai, said she had second thoughts about participating in Singles Day at all this year, but when the final sales period started on Thursday evening, she ended up purchasing about the same amount as last year.

“I think it’s something deep in the mind of Chinese people that if you don’t buy on Singles Day, you are missing out on an opportunity,” she said.

Reporting by Casey Hall and Sophie Yu; Editing by Brenda Goh and Edwina Gibbs