Chinese consumers yesterday snapped up everything from food to electronics and beauty products, as retailers slashed prices for the world’s largest online shopping bonanza, closely watched this year for clues on post-pandemic consumer sentiment.
The marathon spending spree has for more than a decade seen China’s army of shoppers shell out colossal amounts of cash that have dwarfed the incomes of many small countries.
And this year promised to be no exception.
While “Singles’ Day” — so-called for its annual 11.11 date — has long-been a 24-hour event, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) this year expanded it to 11 days starting on Nov. 1.
As of Tuesday night, Alibaba platforms had already processed 372.3 billion yuan (US$56.2 billion) in sales over that period, more than the GDP of Iceland, Lebanon and Georgia combined.
Leading China retailers, such as Alibaba, JD.com Inc (京東) and Pinduoduo Inc (拼多多), compete aggressively for Singles’ Day, which far outstrips the pre-Christmas “Black Friday” promotion in the US.
However, 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 rules published on Tuesday outlined plans to prevent “monopolistic behavior” among Internet companies, which tend to develop captive ecosystems.
Alibaba’s Taobao (淘寶) platform, for example, supports payments via its own Alipay (支付寶), but not the WeChat Pay (微信支付) technology of rival Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊).
This year’s shopping is being closely followed around the world as a guide to the state of China’s vital consumer sector, which is increasingly more important to the future of the world’s biggest economy.
As China emerges from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and tight lockdowns, the recovery in retail sales has lagged that seen in industrial sectors, but is gaining pace, analysts said.
“Singles’ Day” originally focused on sales of certain items, such as beauty products and electronics, said Melanie Sanders, Asia-Pacific head of retail for Bain & Co.
However, 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.”
Last year, “Singles’ Day” sales on Alibaba platforms alone for the 24-hour period totaled US$38.4 billion.
The Economist Intelligence Unit said it expects China’s retail sales recovery to firm in the last three months of the year, supported by the shopping festival.
“China’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic before other major economies will also support consumer confidence,” it said.
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