China’s shoppers splash the cash in world’s biggest spending spree

Published November 12, 2020, 8:02 AM

by Agence France-Presse

SHANGHAI, China — Chinese consumers snapped up items from food to electronics and beauty products Wednesday as retailers slashed prices for the world’s largest online shopping bonanza, closely watched this year for clues on post pandemic consumer sentiment.

A blue robot moves between aisles at the Wuxi warehouse of Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, ahead of Singles Day
(AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

The marathon spending spree has for more than a decade seen China’s army of shoppers shell out colossal amounts of cash that has dwarfed the incomes of many small nations.

And this year will be no exception. While “Single’s Day” — socalled for its annual 11.11 date — usually takes place over 24 hours, ecommerce giant Alibaba began its sale on November 1.

In that time it has already raked in 372.3 billion yuan ($56.5 billion), more than the GDP of Iceland, Lebanon and Georgia combined.

However, in contrast to the past, Alibaba did not post regular overnight updates of sales volumes on its online shopping platforms from the start of the event at midnight, and provided no explanation why.

Leading China retailers such as Alibaba, JD.com, and Pinduoduo compete aggressively during the event, which far outstrips the pre Christmas “Black Friday” promotion in the United States.

This year’s event, however, is being closely followed around the world — as a guide to the state of China’s crucial consumer sector, which is increasingly more important to the future of the world’s biggest economy.

As the country emerges from the effects of the virus and tight lockdowns, the recovery in retail sales has lagged that seen in industrial sectors, but is gaining pace, analysts said.

“Single’s Day” originally focused on sales of certain items like beauty products and electronics, said Melanie Sanders, Asia-Pacific head of retail for consultancy Bain & Company.

But 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.” Conceived in 2009 by Alibaba as an antidote to Valentine’s Day, the event falls on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and was meant to be an occasion for individuals to treat themselves to something new.

But it has expanded to encompass much of China’s entire retail sector, including traditional bricksand-mortar stores, which also offer “Single’s Day” promotions.

Alibaba hypes its version of the promotion with a gala in Shanghai the night before, featuring a musical superstar guest — American singer Katy Perry was this year’s main event, but her show was broadcast virtually.

Last year, “Single’s Day” sales on Alibaba platforms alone for the 24- hour period totalled $38.4 billion.

The Economist Intelligence Unit said it expects China’s retail sales recovery to be 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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