No sign of Singles Day fatigue as sales top US$30b

Ding Yining
The 10th anniversary of Singles Day was celebrated with a bang yesterday on e-commerce platforms, showing consumer spending in China remains a juggernaut for the economy.
Ding Yining

The 10th anniversary of Singles Day was celebrated with a bang on Sunday on Alibaba’s Tmall site and other e-commerce platforms, showing once again that consumer spending in China remains a juggernaut for the economy.

E-commerce giant Alibaba said its B2C site Tmall’s whole-day sales totaled 213.5 billion yuan (US$30.7 billion), a year-on-year jump of 26.9 percent.

By 3:49pm on Sunday, Tmall’s sales had surpassed 168.2 billion yuan, which was the total sales recorded a year earlier.

Tmall sales surpassed 10 billion yuan just two minutes and five seconds after the annual consumer extravaganza began at midnight.

Alibaba’s logistics affiliate Cainiao had fulfilled 812 million orders as of 4:48pm.

Singles Day has gone from strength to strength since 2009. That first year, the event racked up sales of US$7.8 million in a 24-hour period. 

The event is based on a folk holiday started by students at Nanjing University in 1993. 

Seizing on the numeral “1” for a solo person and the November date of 11-11, the students used the occasion to celebrate being unattached and would often buy gifts for one another.

The lead-up to this year’s Singles Day was full of fanfare. The four-hour Tmall countdown gala, held at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai on Saturday night, drew 240 million viewers through satellite TV stations and online streaming sites.

Although billed as a 24-hour shopping spree, the event now extends beyond that period. Many sales are rung up in a lead-in period that started at the beginning of the month. 

Shanghai resident Nancy Li said her biggest expenditure on this Singles Day was massage coupons worth 2,500 yuan. 

“Tmall is still the most favorable purchasing channel for big-ticket items because it’s offering extra discounts and convenience of payment,” she said. 

Even Song, who lives and works in Hong Kong, however said she was reluctant to spend too much time to find the biggest discount on e-commerce platforms since paying for merchandise at offline stores is more straightforward. 

“Sometimes I ended up buying things I don’t need at all so turning a blind eye toward online promotions saves me a lot of trouble,” she said.

An online survey by consultancy Oliver Wyman conducted earlier this month found that half of 2,000 domestic respondents were expecting to buy more on Singles Day this year than they did in 2017. Growth in spending this year was expected to be an average 9 percent.

But is consumer fatigue with the fad starting to appear? That is a question asked every year amid signs that sales growth for the event is moderating.

Indeed, 30 percent of respondents to the Oliver Wyman survey said they expected to spend less this year. 

“Although confidence remains strong, Chinese consumers are being more selective compared with a year ago, keeping their spending in check as they search for deeper discounts and more unique events or offerings,” said Jacques Penhirin, a partner and head of China operations at Oliver Wyman.

Alibaba may have started the Singles Day shopping extravaganza, but it is not the only company capitalizing on its opportunities., which launched its Singles Day sales on November 1, said cumulative sales amounted to 159.8 billion yuan through yesterday. 

Suning’s online retailing unit said online transaction size by 6pm yesterday soared 1.3 times from a year earlier, and it completed 1 billion yuan of transaction within 50 seconds after midnight.

NetEase’ shopping site Kaola saw sales reaching 100 million yuan within four minutes and transaction surpassed last year’s 24-hour figure after one hour and 18 minutes.

It’s hard to talk about Singles Day fatigue with these sorts of figures. What’s the attraction?

Well, for one, there are discounts galore. Consumers can buy not only daily necessities and other merchandise but also lifestyle services, such as meal vouchers, entertainment coupons, beauty treatments and even travel packages offered by Alibaba lifestyle services site Koubei. 

Online selling in many instances dovetails with offline vendors. 

Earlier this month, Alibaba announced a strategic partnership with Fung Retailing Ltd to bring more international brands to the Chinese mainland through the Hong Kong retailer’s global network of more than 3,000 stores. 

Alibaba’s overseas business divisions, which include Tmall World, AliExpress and Lazada, were carrying the Singles Day shopping bonanza to overseas users, covering more than 200 markets and 300 million overseas consumers.

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