China’s Singles’ Day Sales Smash Records—but What’s Next?

After months of planning, advertising and hype by brands and retailers, China’s annual shopping event Singles’ Day, or 11/11, took place on Sunday and the holiday’s inventor Alibaba Group had another record-breaking year.

Marking the 10th anniversary, Alibaba reported the sales over the last 24 hours reached $30.8 billion (RMB 2,135 billion) in gross merchandise volume, up from last year’s $25.3 billion (RMB1, 682 billion) record. At the same time, it was the first time that delivery orders that were placed exceeded a stunning one billion.

At a gala in Shanghai, Alibaba flashed the climbing sales figure on a flashing tote board more normally associated with charity telethons. To put the gross merchandise value figure into perspective, Business Insider said $30.8 billion in sales nearly tripled every company’s, including Amazon’s, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined in 2017. The comparison isn’t quite equal, as 11/11 shoppers can make online orders weeks ahead of time that isn’t processed until Single’s Day, but the pace of buying still soothed some market-watchers who consider 11/11 as a bellwether for the Chinese economy.

Alibaba’s major e-commerce rival also scored around $23 billion (RMB 159.8 billion) during the Singles’ Day, according to the company’s spokesperson.

Economic concerns

Singles’ Day serves as an important metric to gauge the health of China’s economy. The country’s growth has shown signs of a slowdown in recent months as China entered the trade war with the United States and its credit/debt issues are critical.

Despite the record-breaking sales, The New York Times called this year’s event “a party held with icebergs in sight from the deck”.  The pace of sales growth actually slowed, with a 27 percent climb this year compared to 39 percent in last year and 32 percent in 2016.

And as for whether the blockbuster total will reverse a slide in Alibaba shares, Tech Crunch noted  “The slowdown [in rate of 11/11 sales growth] came on the heels of Alibaba’s weakest revenue growth since seven quarters ago and a cut in its annual revenue forecast — though revenues are still increasing at a healthy rate of 54 percent year-over-year.”

Chinese publications also put a question mark on the record-breaking sales figures reported by Alibaba, noting the growth was widely predicted, even expected. Tang Xiaotang from Local Retail Observer wrote: “it is politically incorrect to doubt Alibaba would be able to break its sales from last year.”


Consumer Insights, Market Analysis, Retail, Tech