Major e-commerce giants such as Tmall, JD.com, Douyin, and Pinduoduo collectively recorded a total gross merchandise volume (GMV) of over $111 billion (798.7 billion RMB) during the 618 shopping festival, according to third-party data provider Syntun.
This year’s 618, which ran from May 31 to June 18, saw more activity than in previous years due to dates overlapping with the 20th anniversary of JD.com, Father’s Day and the Dragon Boat Festival.
While JD.com, the founder of the 618 festival, did not disclose its GMV data, it did report that it “surpassed all growth expectations” this year. Within the first 10 minutes of the event, over 23% more brands topped $13.9 million (RMB 100 million) in sales compared with the year before, while the transaction volume of luxury brands like Bulgari, Tiffany & Co. and Givenchy jumped threefold.
The 618 extravaganza continues to hold its rank as China’s second-largest online shopping event after Alibaba’s 11.11, also known as Singles’ Day. With a record number of brands joining this year’s festivities, here are some key trends to note.
Top-performing platforms, and the power of video and livestreaming
In terms of revenue, Alibaba’s Tmall emerged as the top-earning platform, reported Syntun. However, livestreaming platforms such as Douyin and Kuaishou experienced significant growth.
If 618 is any indication, short videos are on an unstoppable rise. According to Alibaba-owned media outlet Alizila, the number of influencers creating short videos on a daily basis during 618 soared by 200% year-over-year, and the number of participating merchants increased 55% YoY.
Meanwhile, the number of Taobao content creators that started livestreaming during 618 rose by 139% from 2022, doubling consumers’ viewing time on the app.
Both short videos and livestreams played a major role in driving sales. By the end of the festival, Taobao Live, Alibaba’s dedicated livestreaming channel, hit an impressive 490 livestreams and generated over $1.39 billion (10 billion RMB). Tmall Luxury Pavilion reported that jewelry sales made via livestream were 10 times higher during the first four hours of the festival than last year.
“We’re seeing bigger discounts from the platforms, which show heightened competition at the platform-level,” says Jacob Cooke, co-founder and CEO of the digital marketing agency WPIC Marketing + Technologies. “Content is the other major battleground, and Alibaba has shifted its 618 KPIs towards user growth and time spend rather than overall GMV. Bringing Messi onto a livestream was part of Alibaba’s big investments in content, which is a response to Douyin.”
“Content is the other major battleground, and Alibaba has shifted its 618 KPIs towards user growth and time spend rather than overall GMV. Bringing Messi onto a livestream was part of Alibaba’s big investments in content, which is a response to Douyin.”
In fact, a quarter of the content creators that joined Taobao Live this year were not focused on product promotion. The aforementioned livestream with soccer star Lionel Messi on Taobao Live did not involve any explicit commercial activities; rather, it was a way to drive traffic to the Alibaba platform as the battle with rival e-commerce sites heats up.
Luxury, fashion and beauty brands jump on the bandwagon
Several brands stepped up their 618 strategies this year. Apple made its first livestreaming appearance on Tmall to offer rare discounts on its iPhone 14 Pro and Apple Watch Series 8, which garnered 1.3 million viewers within an hour.
Berluti, Moncler, Lemaire, and Rick Owens took part in Tmall’s 618 festival for the first time, promoting their latest collections.
Luxury names like Coach and Jimmy Choo offered enticing discounts, with the latter selling its signature Romy heels for 50% off. Others participated in the Tmall site-wide coupon offer, which gave consumers a $7 (50 RMB) discount for every $42 (300 RMB) spent.
On JD.com, veteran 618 contenders like Max Mara, Valentino, and Maison Margiela experienced a 20-fold increase in transaction volume YoY.
Beauty sales also saw a promising uptick following sluggish demand during the pandemic. On JD.com, 150 skincare and beauty brands, including YSL, Lancome, and specialist skincare brand Proya, doubled their transaction volumes YoY in the first 10 minutes of 618. According to Syntun, YSL, Dior and Chanel were the top three ranking brands in sales performance on the platform in this category.
“That suggests the average consumer is increasingly willing to spend on discretionary items. The growth of these categories also shows how prominent certain lifestyle trends are, like the increased focus on health and wellness,” Cooke explains.
618’s biggest buying trends
With young Chinese placing a greater emphasis on skincare and wellness, beauty devices were a hot commodity this year. Domestic beauty tech brand Seayeo sold out of its LED facial beauty light in 20 seconds on Taobao, achieving a turnover of $13.9 million (RMB 100 million). Sales of high-tech skincare products targeting wrinkles and skin nourishment products like essential oils also surged.
This aligns with findings by Chinese research institute Zhiyan Consulting, which predicts that China’s beauty device market will reach almost $3 billion (20 billion RMB) by 2026. Because the penetration rate of home skincare devices in China is relatively low compared to in Japan or Korea, foreign brands dominate the market, although homegrown companies are starting to receive more funding.
Another trend that emerged was the popularity of new products. Among the 2,500 best-selling products in the first four hours on Tmall, one-third of them were new. As Alizila wrote, “Chinese consumers have long been known for their willingness to experiment and relative disloyalty to classics.” This should keep brands on their toes and force them to continue launching innovative products for the Chinese market.
Growth, albeit sluggish
With all that said, the fact that both Alibaba and JD.com failed to disclose their total GMV figures signals — a key indicator of e-commerce success — signals that results were not as glamorous as they once were.
On June 19, Alibaba shares fell 2% in Hong Kong while JD.com’s shares dropped 1.9%.
Citi analysts estimate that JD.coms GMV rose 6-8% over the festival period, which was less than the 10.3% growth last year and the 27.7% growth seen in 2021.
In other words, despite an increase in sales, the rate of growth has decelerated, reflecting ongoing worries about economic recovery and limited job prospects, particularly among China’s younger demographic. Taobao, Tmall, JD.com and Pinduoduo all launched significant subsidy and discount voucher schemes to stimulate demand this year.
Although consumers are still cautious, WPIC’s Cooke notes encouraging signs that consumer confidence is trending upwards. Not only did Alibaba’s overall online sales growth turn positive in March, but the country’s retail sales posted sequential growth in April and May.
“So it’s clear that consumers are increasingly willing to dip into the record savings they accumulated during the pandemic, even though the recovery hasn’t been as fast as some expected,” added Cooke.
Additional reporting by Lisa Nan