The big spending party is over, long live Chinese consumerism!

The Singles Day shopping extravaganza, as predicted, was bigger than ever. What's left for consumers as well as merchants to think about before the next shopping season? 

The Singles Day shopping extravaganza, as predicted, was bigger than ever. While consumers are buzzing over what they bought and what bargains they found, executives of online retail giants Alibaba and are bickering about how record sales figures should be calculated.

Alibaba said its sales totaled 168.3 billion yuan (US$24.4 billion), while put its figure at 127.1 billion yuan.The grist of the grips revolves around when sales actually occurred.’s figures include a pre-sale discount season begun 10 days before the November 11 Singles Day. 

Alibaba Senior Vice President Wang Shuai cried foul, saying his company’s figures were clocked from midnight on November Vice President Xu Lei countered that Alibaba was twisting the facts since its Tmall and Taobao online retail platforms staged pre-sale activities more than two weeks ago.Viewed either way, sales smashed records for the day, cementing the event as the world’s biggest shopping day by far. 

Alibaba’s sales alone soared 40 percent from a year earlier. Singles Day has become so large, in fact, that it’s hard for the online giants to confine it to 24 hours. Pre-sale activities launched in late October among selective Tmall and Taobao vendors were staged to allow sellers time to prepare in case huge orders flooded into the sites on the day itself.

What do consumers say

Sylvia Yang, a lifestyle blogger, spent nearly 20,000 yuan during the Singles Day shopping spree. 

Her best buy: “All I bought is perfect; I’ve chosen everything carefully and bought them at lowest cost”

Her comment: Tmall and Taobao have helped consumers save more money by providing coupons this year. Apart from enjoying price reductions from the vendors online, I’ve saved 1,630 yuan via coupons.

Geng Jun, a teacher of a high school, spent more than 10,000 yuan during the Singles Day. 

His best buy: a 55-inch television set

His comment: I am a new fan of Singles Day… last year, I saw my colleagues get so many bargains, and I just can’t wait for the day to come. On my list there are a television set, an air purifier, and some furniture. I really get good prices. Besides, to receive my parcels is such a big pleasure that makes me exciting all this week!

Cathy Xu, a coffee shop assistant, spent over 2,000 yuan.

Her best buy: two boxes of paper napkin and some cosmetics

Her comment: I’ve joined the Single Day shopping spree since it started nine years ago. I don’t intend to make a profit from the price reductions; I just buy some daily necessities as usual. I will buy them no matter there are discounts or not, but the annual spree does help my family and me save some money. 

Luo Qianxi, owner of a bicycle repair booth, spent nothing.

His comment: I am not interested in Singles Day shopping. What to buy? Shoes? … No, no, no, I buy shoes in real stores because I can try them on, and it is a bother to return goods if I don’t like what I buy online.

For consumers, it’s often bewildering to try to compare the prices of pre-sale items with those that go on sale when Singles Day officially begins.I’ve heard plenty of complaints about how complex the discounting systems have become. 

There were at least five different types of coupons available on Taobao and Tmall. Some people have said, in half jest only, that consumers need a degree in mathematics to figure out which coupons should be combined to make the best use of the discounts.

One facet that will no doubt please consumers is that payment and delivery services related to Singles Day have improved immeasurably from nine years ago when the event began. 

That’s good news, given that 850 million orders were placed and consumers expect and demand speedy delivery. About 331 million packages were processed by Chinese postal and courier companies on Singles Day alone, according to the State Post Bureau.

Efficiency on that level means that large merchants have to start preparatory work for Singles Day months before the event, making sure that stocks, staffing, computer systems and logistics are in place.

Hard labor

The Singles Day receipts make up about a fifth of the annual sales of some merchants handling high-turnover goods. In a sense, many consumers use the shopping festival to stock up on goods at bargain prices, which means they won’t be spending as much in the coming months.

According to a latest Kantar survey of more than 800 respondents, 64 percent of consumers tried new products that offer discounts which they find too expensive during normal times, and 61 percent bought brands that they’re already familiar with. 

Nearly half of them (48 percent) spent more from last year while 25 percent cut their spending from a year ago. 

With Singles Day so popular and lucrative, it’s no surprise that some online platforms are looking for other holiday occasions to turn into shopping extravaganzas. Next month on December 12, there will be the Double 12 Festival, also coined by Alibaba, which encourages consumers to use mobile payment services while shopping and dining at offline shops.

For online sellers engaged in cross-border trade, Black Friday looms. That’s the day after Thanksgiving in the US and traditionally kicks off the Christmas shopping season.Many Chinese and foreign merchants involved in imported goods will be offering discounts on the day.

Shanghai-based cross-border online shopping site Yangmatou said its annual Black Friday sales event, now entering its fourth year, would focus on reducing delivery times and raising service standards.

Having invested heavily in a global warehouse and delivery network, the company is betting it has a competitive advantage. Founder and Chief Executive Officer Zeng Bibo said he isn’t worried that consumer spending power was depleted by Singles Day.

It’s become apparent to most offline retailers that they have to embrace digital services if they want to survive. And, yes, there is also an online-to offline shopping festival, where delivery services link consumers with merchandise and services to be delivered to their doorsteps.

A Chinese phenomenon 

One might say that Singles Day has become so phenomenal because it marries China’s business and technological prowess with an insatiable consumer appetite for bargains.

Foreign retailers are certainly not immune to the contagion. Last year, German-based Metro said imported liquid milk was one of its best-selling items on Tmall during Singles Day. 

However, the delivery costs of such a perishable product were so high that the company decided to branch out more this year.

Metro China Chief Executive Officer Jeroen de Groot said ahead of this year’s Singles Day event that large sales volumes certainly lifted the company’s profile, but a balance is needed between creating brand awareness and providing more value-added products.

This year, the average spending from one single customer shopping at Metro's Tmall store doubled from a year ago and three products recorded sales of more than 5,000 units, with top selling ones include olive oil, red wine, food and nutritional supplements, and its strategy was to encourage buyers to shop on a more frequent basis instead of just on Singles Day. 

Singles Day is over for another year. People tired of all the hoopla it generates will breathe a sigh of relief. As business returns to normal, merchants are now left to decide how best to attract consumers until the next shopping spree descends.

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