Employees sort boxes and parcels after an Alibaba 11.11 (Singles’ Day) online shopping festival. Picture: REUTERS
Employees sort boxes and parcels after an Alibaba 11.11 (Singles’ Day) online shopping festival. Picture: REUTERS

Hangzhou — China’s Alibaba said orders made through its e-commerce sites during its Singles’ Day shopping extravaganza had exceeded $56bn by Wednesday morning, as lockdown-weary consumers splashed out on as many as 16-million discounted products.

The world’s biggest sales event — eclipsing Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US combined — stretches over four main days this year, and so far has brought sellers on Alibaba platforms 16 times as many orders by value than Amazon.com clocked in October in its two-day global Prime Day.

The performance will likely come as a relief to Alibaba, a week since it lost about 10% of its market value after regulators pulled the listing of financial technology affiliate Ant Group.

The sale also comes amid an economic rebound with the spread of the novel coronavirus in China under control, while border closures abroad have meant more consumers spending at home. Such is its size that its performance is widely considered indicative of the strength of China’s post-virus recovery.

Alibaba, which launched the shopping event in 2009, began the sale earlier in 2020 to give lesser-known brands more exposure. It scheduled primary discount days for November 1 to November 3 as well as the usual November 11, and will calculate gross merchandise volume (GMV) over the 11 days, rather than 24 hours.

The event is usually a splashy affair accompanied by live performances, with Katy Perry and Taylor Swift appearing in 2020 at Alibaba's gala late on Tuesday, albeit via livestream.

As well as simple percentage discounts from regular prices, Alibaba encourages shoppers across its numerous platforms to play mobile games, combine purchases across shops and place orders in the sale’s first few hours to get the best deals.

As of 12.30am local time on Wednesday, GMV had surpassed 372.3-billion yuan ($56.3bn) with orders peaking at a record 583,000 per second, Alibaba said. More than two-million products featured in the sale for the first time — double 2019's number, when GMV for November 11 reached a record $38.4bn.

More than 340 firms, including Apple, L'Oreal, Huawei and Nike, have exceeded 100-million yuan in sales, and 13 brands have recorded GMV above one-billion yuan, Alibaba said.

Rivals JD.com and Pinduoduo as well as firms such as Douyin — the Chinese version of Beijing ByteDance’s TikTok — are also holding events for Singles' Day, which falls on the 11th day of the 11th month.

JD.com, which started Singles’ Day promotions on November 1, said it recorded 200-billion yuan worth of sales within nine minutes of midnight on Wednesday, while electronics retailer Suning.com — part-owned by Alibaba — said it made five-billion yuan in sales within the first 19 minutes.

Boon for luxury

Singles’ Day was trending on China's Twitter-like Weibo, while a poll of Singles’ Day spending by Sina Entertainment found 44% of 174,000 respondents aimed to spend less than 1,000 yuan vs 4% who planned to splurge over 10,000 yuan.

Still, analysts expect 2020 to be a boon for luxury brands, as Chinese consumers accustomed to going overseas to buy high-end goods are stuck at home due to border closures.

“The lack of consumer tourism which has hit European and US stalwarts like Harrods, Galeries Lafayette and Nordstroms will likely see bigger spending locally,” retail analyst Andy Halliwell at consultancy Publicis Sapient said in a client note.

Livestreaming with telegenic hosts hawking products in real-time was a common feature of 2020’s Singles’ Day, continuing a trend which started about two years ago.

At a building close to Alibaba’s Hangzhou headquarters, where rooms had been converted into film studios, dozens of livestreamers chatted incessantly to viewers about Singles’ Day promotions and the merits of the goods they were selling.

Luo Lima, who sells diapers and other maternity products, estimated she had been on camera for 24 hours over the course of this year’s sales period, vs six hours on Singles’ Day two years ago.

“We stream continuously for six hours, with no break,” she said. “Basically we start by eating a full meal, and getting in a good state of mind. We also prepare throat lozenges and vitamin drinks.”

Reuters

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