Pinduoduo has usurped Alibaba for the title of China’s most valuable e-commerce company.
On November 29, parent company PDD Holdings’ market capitalization hit 195.9 billion, surpassing Alibaba Group’s 190.5 billion. Although the figures have dipped since then, PDD Holdings remains in the lead.
The news comes after PDD Holdings reported blockbuster third-quarter earnings on November 27, with revenue surging 94 percent YoY to 9.7 billion (68.8 billion RMB) and operating profit increasing 60 percent YoY to 2.3 billion (16.7 billion RMB).
In comparison, revenue at rival Alibaba Group grew far slower at 9 percent YoY to 30.81 billion (224.79 billion RMB) during the same period. Upon the news that the company would not spin off its cloud business, Alibaba’s US-listed shares fell about 8 percent on November 16, with Morgan Stanley downgrading the stock from buy to hold.
PDD Holdings attributed its strong performance to China’s robust demand for consumption upgrades. “It's the balance of quality and price that consumers care most about. Recognizing this trend, we are more confident about our value proposition of more savings and better services,” said co-CEO Chen Lei in a call with investors.
In the three months ended September 30, the Chinese retail and agriculture conglomerate launched special promotions on its flagship platform, Pinduoduo, that are “typically only available a few times a year during major shopping festivals,” according to the company. These campaigns included the National Brand Festival, held in collaboration with over 100 domestic brands, and the Duoduo Harvest Festival, connecting shoppers to 3,000 agricultural merchants.
During this year's Singles' Day, Pinduoduo's 10 billion RMB (1.4 billion) subsidy program attracted over 620 million customers, providing discounts on high-ticket items. The platform’s aggressive pricing strategy, combined with its group-buying feature, is gaining popularity as local consumers tighten their belts.
“Pinduoduo originally engineered a consumer-to-manufacturer (C2M) model that connected suppliers to consumers, with the intent of catering to a lower-spending demographic,” Jacob Cooke, CEO of WPIC Marketing + Technologies, tells Jing Daily.
“Due to economic pressures of the past two years, Pinduoduo has expanded beyond its original target demographic, with many higher-spending consumers coming on the platform to seek savings on everyday essentials. Pinduoduo’s rise is linked to the fact that certain segments of the consumer base are price conscious.”
Like Pinduoduo, Temu has rapidly acquired customers by offering deals that just seem too good to be true (and some of them are just that, with negative reviews and warnings about faulty products aplenty). This is done by exporting Pinduoduo’s C2M model, connecting the same Chinese suppliers to shoppers in over 40 markets around the world.
To set itself apart from competitors, the Boston-based marketplace has created a “borderless discovery and loyalty engine fine-tuned to American shoppers,” magnifying its presence through an army of influencers and user-generated content, says Joanna Williams, co-founder and CEO of Moore Collective, a digital consultancy and fashion startup.
“A core Temu strength lies in the 2x more American creators actively co-creating TikTok content than rival Shein. Beyond superior grassroots traction, Temu promoted over 45 UGC testimonials through paid ads in 30 days, exhibiting their commitment to amplifying authentic community content,” says Williams.
“By pursuing genuine connections with a range of creators, not just transactional celebrity sponsorships, Temu earns peer-to-peer buzz and trust, propelling brand familiarity. This grassroots community building drives awareness and trust in nuanced ways programmatic advertising cannot,” she adds.
According to Bloomberg Second Measure, which analyzes billions of credit and debit card transactions, Temu's revenue in September 2023 was more than double that of Shein. With 250 million downloads as of November 2023, Temu is expected to generate more than 16 billion in revenue this year.
Though not without flaws, Temu and Pinduoduo’s success stems from their ability to capitalize on two trends reshaping the global e-commerce landscape: social commerce and heavy discounting.
With two swelling businesses under its umbrella, PDD Holdings is shaping up to be an attractive buy for investors.
That said, “it’s important to acknowledge that Alibaba continues to maintain a substantial lead in both e-commerce sales and corporate revenues compared to PDD Holdings. The surge in PDD’s market capitalization is due to its impressive growth rate,” Cooke says.
"Alibaba continues to maintain a substantial lead in both e-commerce sales and corporate revenues compared to PDD Holdings. The surge in PDD’s market capitalization is due to its impressive growth rate."
When it comes to brands, he says that Alibaba’s Tmall should remain the cornerstone of a brand’s e-commerce strategy in China.
“Pinduoduo presents challenges for vendors, including stringent return policies, less dynamic ad tools, and a consumer perception that the platform is for cheap goods. There is also a prevalence of fake goods on Pinduoduo,” Cooke explains. “For premium brands, establishing a presence on Pinduoduo could potentially dilute brand equity.”
On the other hand, Alibaba has invested for over a decade in building consumers’ trust, including a system that guarantees authenticity on Tmall, he adds.
Not only should brands be careful about discounting, which can have repercussions on long-term brand value, they should also be discerning about which platforms they partner with. While one marketplace might be gaining steam at the moment, it could have an impact on brand image that outlasts its hype.