Singles’ Day sales start strong on first day as China’s domestic consumption recovers from Covid-19 impact

Jane Zhang
·4-min read

E-commerce giants Alibaba Group Holding and JD.com both posted strong first-day Singles’ Day sales numbers on Monday, amid a recovery in consumer spending in China after the coronavirus pandemic hit retail sales hard earlier in the year.

Hangzhou-based Alibaba, which created the annual Singles’ Day online shopping festival in 2009, said that when the clock struck midnight on the first day of sales on Sunday, hundreds of millions of consumers flocked to its Taobao and Tmall e-commerce platforms and checked out 14 million discounted items that they had added to their shopping carts earlier.

One hundred brands hit sales of 100 million yuan (US$15 million) on Alibaba’s platforms in 111 minutes after the online shopping extravaganza started, the company added in a statement on Monday.

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Alibaba is China’s largest e-commerce group and the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

Meanwhile, on JD.com, the country’s second-largest e-commerce platform, sales were 90 per cent higher than last year on the first day of the shopping festival. “The booming opening sales have once again proven that with coronavirus pandemic prevention measures becoming a normal part of life ... China’s consumer market is on an upwards trend in the mid to long term,” the platform said in a separate statement on Monday.

What you need to know about China’s Singles’ Day online shopping festival

Singles’ Day – the world’s largest online shopping festival – usually takes place on November 11 on Alibaba’s platforms, but the company added another official sales window from November 1 to 3 this year to allow more brands and businesses to participate. JD.com began official sales on November 1 as with previous years, but added a pre-sales period starting from October 21, the same date that Alibaba’s pre-sales began.

The annual shopping spree, also known as Double 11, is seen by many investors as a proxy for consumer spending in China as well as an important barometer for economic health. And this year, with the coronavirus pandemic hitting many industries and dragging global economies down, the stakes are particularly high for retailers.

“It will be the longest and most complex Double 11 ever,” said Xiaofeng Wang, senior analyst from Forrester. “Brands and retailers are eager to recover from the impact of Covid-19 and will double down on their investment in Double 11 to boost sales.”

China was the first major economy to start growing again following a global slump caused by the coronavirus: in the third quarter of the year, it recorded gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 4.9 per cent. Online retail sales in the world’s second-largest economy also grew 9.7 per cent year-on-year to 8 trillion yuan in the first three quarters of 2020, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

“China’s economy has seen a strong recovery and Chinese consumers’ purchase behaviours have already returned to pre-pandemic levels, if not higher,” Wang said.

Here’s how Alibaba powered billions of transactions on Singles’ Day

A survey of more than 2,000 consumers in China found that 39 per cent planned to spend more during this year’s Singles’ Day compared to last year, while only 15 per cent planned to spend less due to lingering concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the report consulting firm AlixPartners published last week.

Presales on Alibaba’s Tmall Global platform started on October 21, and the company said the sales from this period show a “robust and continuously growing demand for imported goods”, with gross merchandise volume (GMV) on the platform increasing by more than 90 per cent year-on-year. Sales for imported wine and bird’s nest grew 400 per cent, while the GMV of imported coffee beans grew 92 per cent year on year.

On JD.com, the top five categories were smartphones, washing machines, flat-panel televisions, refrigerators and laptops. Consumers also snapped up smartphones – the number of transactions for iPhone, Xiaomi and Realme handsets in the first 10 minutes after sales officially started was 10 times higher than last year, and sales of Huawei’s newly launched Mate 40 phones surpassed 100 million yuan in just eight seconds on the platform, according to the e-commerce platform.

Both Alibaba and JD.com have moved to boost their logistics networks in recent months, and some customers received their Singles’ Day orders within minutes of placing them this year.

Alibaba’s first parcel during the shopping festival, containing mosquito repellent incense liquid, reached a customer in southwest China’s Sichuan province 11 minutes after the order was placed at midnight. A JD.com customer in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province was the first to receive her parcel from the platform: she got the lipstick she pre-ordered six minutes after she paid on Sunday, according to the company.

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