Business

Alibaba's Singles' Day sales hit $23 billion in first nine hours

Reuters, Bloomberg

Chinese retailer Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said Monday that sales logged from its annual Singles’ Day shopping blitz crossed the $30 billion mark late Monday afternoon, putting the event on track to set a record in its 11th year.

Akin to Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, Singles’ Day has been promoted as a shopping festival by Alibaba Chairman and Chief Executive Daniel Zhang since 2009, growing rapidly to become the world’s biggest online sales event.

Also dubbed “Double Eleven,” the festival’s name originates from the calendar date Nov. 11, with the four ones in 11/11 signifying being single.

Alibaba netted sales worth $30 billion on its platforms on Singles’ Day last year, dwarfing the $7.9 billion in U.S. online sales logged for Cyber Monday. Yet the 27 percent sales growth was the lowest in the event’s 10-year history, spurring a search for fresh ideas.

Citic Securities, in a research note Saturday, projected Singles’ Day sales would grow 20 to 25 percent this year, held back partly by slowing e-commerce growth in China.

The Chinese retail juggernaut, with a market value of $486 billion, kicked off this year’s 24-hour event with performances by American pop star Taylor Swift and local celebrities such as Jackson Yee.

Sales hit $1 billion in the first minute and eight seconds and reached 84 billion yuan in the first hour, up 22 percent from last year’s early haul of 69 billion yuan.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing continue to fuel uncertainty and roil business. Among China’s largest corporations, Alibaba is expected to better ride out the storm, thanks to booming online consumption in the world’s No. 2 economy.

“Alibaba will probably be the one that will be able to circumvent and come out from the trade war in better shape” versus Baidu Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., said Richard Wong, head of information and communication technology for the Asia-Pacific at Frost & Sullivan. “The current sentiment and confidence in terms of spending is still relatively high.”

Singles’ Day was among the top trending topics on China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblogging platform Monday morning, with users discussing what they spent their money on.

Alibaba has said it expects over 500 million people to participate in the shopping festival this year, about 100 million more than last year.

But the company is facing stiff competition this time as smaller platforms including JD.com Inc. and Pinduoduo Inc. — the aggressively expanding upstart that’s now encroaching on the market leaders’ turf.

They’re vying for the wallets of shoppers, particularly those in relatively untapped rural areas. All employ heavy discounting and hard-sell tactics in the run-up to and during the 24-hour event in a bid to best the previous year’s record.

“Overall, we think this year will likely see a more competitive Double 11 period,” Ella Ji, an analyst at China Renaissance Holdings Ltd., said in a report. “We anticipate each platform will spend more on subsidies.”

Zhang, who took over as Alibaba chairman from billionaire Jack Ma in September, pioneered the show in its present form in 2015. The Singles’ Day impresario passes the baton this year to Jiang Fan, president of e-commerce marketplaces Taobao and Tmall, and a potential successor to Zhang himself.

“Over the years, we’ve seen consumers become more diverse and younger. Each generation of consumers needs their own peers to serve them,” Zhang said in a post on Alibaba’s blog. “I think this young team is the future.”

The 2019 edition already comes with slight twists to the formula. Alibaba, stung by criticism it harmed the environment by shipping an estimated 1 billion packages in a single day — has enjoined its logistics arm Cainiao to set up recycling centers at 75,000 locations.

The company also says it will work with courier companies to pick up used boxes and wrapping.

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