Alibaba nets record £23 billion in Singles’ Day sales frenzy

The world’s largest shopping festival: Chinese net users spend a record high of £23 billion at annual e-commerce frenzy ‘Singles Day’

  • Shoppers snapped up hot items including iPhones, furniture and milk power starting pre-down on Sunday
  • Alibaba claims to have hit 69 billion yuan (£7.7 billion) in sales in first hour during the yearly buying bonanza
  • However annual sales growth fell from 39 per cent to 27 per cent, slowest rate in the event’s 10-year history 
  • Spending binge has for years eclipsed Cyber Monday in the US for online purchases made on a single day 
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Online shoppers have splurged a whopping 213.5 billion yuan (£23.8 billion) on this year’s Singles Day, China’s annual buying bonanza which takes place on November 11, shattering last year’s record.

Shoppers in China and across the world snapped up hot items including iPhones, furniture and milk powder starting pre-dawn on Sunday, with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba recording roughly 69 billion yuan (£7.7 billion) in sales in the first hour after midnight.

The annual 24-hour retail frenzy is the world’s biggest online sales event, outstripping the sales of US shopping holidays Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. 


Online shoppers have splurged a whopping 213.5 billion yuan (£23.8 billion) on this year’s Singles Day shopping event


Workers preparing items ahead of the ‘Singles Day’ event at a storage facility in Shenyang, Liaoning province


A screen shows total sales hit 213.5 billion yuan (£23.8 billion) after the end of the impressive shopping festival on Sunday


Workers sort packages after the shopping festival at a delivery company in Hengyang, Hunan province on early Monday

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The Chinese event was originally a novelty student holiday to celebrate being single, countering Valentines Day, but has since grown into a month-long online shopping festival that peaks with a 24-hour sale on November 11.

This year, the company surpassed last year’s full-day sales record of 168 billion yuan (£19 billion) in just under sixteen hours.

Despite the record haul, the annual sales growth rate fell from 39 per cent to 27 per cent, at the low end of analyst estimates, and the slowest rate in the event’s 10-year history.

It comes as the company is grappling with a weaker sales outlook amid rising trade tensions between China and the United States that have taken a bite out of China’s economy.

Earlier this month it revised down its full-year sales outlook by 4 to 6 per cent, sending further chills through the company’s stock price, which has dropped roughly 16 per cent this year after almost doubling in 2017. 


Staff workers carry boxes at a logistic base of electrical appliance retailer Suning during China’s massive shopping spree


The Chinese event was originally a novelty student holiday to celebrate being single, countering Valentines Day


This year’s event is expected to be Alibaba’s final November sale with founder and chairman Jack Ma (pictured) at the helm


People look for their packages on the sidewalk outside of an office building in Beijing on Monday after making orders online

To compensate, the company will take in less commission from its platforms in the near term to retain brands and attract new buyers, it said.

Online sales growth is also slowing across the board in the country’s eastern mega-cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, and Alibaba said roughly 75 per cent of new users last quarter were in ‘less developed’ areas.

While small appliances and cosmetics were strong on Sunday, sales in big-ticket items including large appliances slowed alongside a downturn in the housing market, Alibaba vice chairman Joe Tsai told the press.

‘If people aren’t buying new homes, they aren’t buying appliances,’ he said.

Despite the milder growth, executives were upbeat on Sunday at a press event in Shanghai, attended by roughly 800 journalists who watched a live-streamed ticker of the sales.

‘Today we reached 200 billion [yuan[ (£22 billion). But we have to change. We have to continue to change to reach 300 billion (£34) or 500 billion (£56 billion),’ said chief executive Daniel Zhang, who is credited with being the architect of the original Singles’ Day sale.


Despite the record haul, the annual sales growth rate fell from 39 per cent to 27 per cent, at the low end of analyst estimates


Alibaba is grappling with a weaker sales outlook amid rising trade tensions between China and the United States that have taken a bite out of China’s economy


The company settled roughly US$1 billion (£778 million) within the first minute and 25 seconds after midnight on Sunday


During this year’s shopping event, Alibaba said it worked with 180,000 brands across over 200 countries

Alibaba kicked off this year’s sales with a gala event that featured US singer Mariah Carey, a Japanese Beyonce impersonator and a Cirque du Soleil performance.

It’s expected to be the company’s final November sale with founder and Chairman Jack Ma at the helm, with Zhang set to take over as chairman next year, the company said in September.

During this year’s event the company said it worked with 180,000 brands across over 200 countries, and shortly before midnight on Sunday it had sent over a billion packages.

A disproportionately large number of sales were recorded in the first minutes of the 24-hour spending spree, when a huge queue of transactions went through for pre-ordered items.

The company settled roughly US$1 billion (£778 million) within the first minute and 25 seconds after midnight.

Analysts said the sales continued to be cannibalised by competing events, including the ‘618’ festival spearheaded by Alibaba competitor JD.com Inc in June.


Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba Group, third from right, pose for photos after Alibaba’s 11.11 global shopping festival on Sunday


Alibaba said shortly before midnight on Sunday it had sent over a billion packages as most of them had been pre-ordered


Alibaba kicked off this year’s sales with a gala event that featured US singer Mariah Carey and other celebrities


Australian model Miranda Kerr speaks during the 2018 Tmall 11:11 Global Shopping Festival gala in Shanghai on Saturday

JD.com, which also does a longer Singles’ Day sales event culminating on November 11, said sales in the period had hit 159.8 billion yuan (£18 billion) this year, up about 26 per cent from last year. 

‘With an increasing number of promotion events a year, consumers no longer feel that Double 11 is the only opportunity to get good bargains,’ said Pedro Yip, partner at consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

‘Having said that, there are more consumers who still enjoy shopping at Double 11 than those that don’t,’ he said.

‘My busy schedule makes it impossible for me to shop during weekdays,’ said Huang Zhaoxian, who works at a bank in Ji’nan, east China’s Shandong Province. 

‘Instead, it only takes me a few minutes to buy daily necessities such as fruits, electronic products or even furniture via the internet, and there are more choices online,’ he told Xinhua.

According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, the retail sales of consumer goods in China reached 32 trillion yuan (£3.6 trillion) in the first three quarters of 2018, a year-on-year increase of 9.3 per cent. The total consumer spending contributed 78 per cent to GDP expansion in the first nine months, up 14 per cent from last year.

What is China’s Singles Day?

Singles Day, or Bachelor’s Day, emerged in 1993 after a group of single male university students in east China’s Nanjing coined an idea for an ‘anti-Valentines Day’.

The day, on November 11, started as an excuse for locals to get together and celebrate being single, but quickly developed into a phenomenon across China.

November 11 is chosen because the date comprises four ones. The four digits, written out as 11.11, signifies the status of ‘being alone’. Hence the festival is also called ‘bare sticks holiday’ in China.


People pick up packages from private delivery company couriers outside of an office building in Beijing on Nov 12, 2018

It was adopted by e-commerce giant Alibaba when it started to launch ‘Double 11’ deals on Singles Day in 2009, rapidly transforming the festival into the massive online haul it is today.

It was also seen as a chance to boost sales in the lull between China’s Golden Week national holiday in October and the Christmas season. 

In that first year consumers spent 50 million yuan (around £5m) and 27 merchants offered discounts. 

Sales officially opens at midnight, releasing a wave of pre-orders that shoppers place ahead of the event and propelling the first billion dollar of transactions in just minutes.

‘Back in 2013, 35 billion yuan (£4 billion) was our one-day GMV (gross merchandise volume),’ said Alibaba’s Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang in a live microblog posting on Alibaba’s event. ‘Now we can achieve it in one hour.’

Alibaba is not the only retailer to mark November 11 with a massive sales drive. China’s no. 2 e-commerce player – and bitter Alibaba rival – JD.com Inc and many others also offer discount deals on the day. 

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