China’s e-commerce leaders Alibaba Group Holding and JD.com Inc. announced that sales for this year’s "Singles Day" surpassed the previous year's figures. However, analysts view this slower growth as indicative of the country's struggling economy.
A Shift in Pace
Both Alibaba and JD.com reported an increase in sales during the November 11 shopping extravaganza, often likened to Cyber Monday with its massive discounts on millions of products. While sales saw a boost, both companies chose to withhold complete data for the second consecutive year. This decision marks a departure from the event's 15-year history of transparency.
From Bachelor's Day to Shopping Spree
Formerly known as "Bachelor's Day," the holiday originally served as a day for single men to revel in their status. Nowadays, it is recognized more for its frenzied shopping sprees that start at the end of October and continue until mid-November. Ironically, Singles' Day festivities have also become associated with couples.
Slowdown in Growth
According to Chinese retail analyst Syntun, this year's Singles' Day sales only managed a 2.08% increase, reaching ¥1.14 trillion ($156 billion). This stark deceleration contrasts with the double-digit growth experienced annually between 2009 and 2020.
A Positive Note
On a more positive note, China's State Post Bureau reported a 23.22% surge in package deliveries during the 11-day shopping event compared to 2022, totaling 5.26 billion packages.
Pursuit of Affordability
Despite the slower growth, this year's holiday saw all of China's major e-commerce platforms prioritize affordability. The emphasis on low prices highlights fierce competition among retailers and suggests that Chinese consumers are actively cutting back on spending.
The Decline of Singles' Day Shopping
A recent survey conducted by Bain & Co, comprising 3,000 participants of Singles' Day, has revealed a decline in Chinese consumers' enthusiasm for the shopping extravaganza. Out of the respondents, only 23% expressed their intention to spend more in 2023 as compared to the previous year. This percentage is significantly lower than the 24% recorded in 2022 and the 51% observed in 2021.
Analyst Jie Zhang from Alpha Value has commented on this trend, stating that there is a growing disinterest among consumers towards these types of consumer events. Singles' Day, which has been celebrated for fifteen years, seems to be losing its appeal.
The entrance of new market players, particularly price-focused entities like Pinduoduo from PDD Holding, has intensified competition and made an impact. These players have sought to capture market share by enabling consumers from China's lower-tier cities to come together and purchase products in bulk, thereby reducing costs. The survey conducted by Bain & Co highlights the cost-conscious nature of consumers in these lower-tier cities, especially among younger demographics. This sharp focus on affordability has contributed to the changing landscape of Singles' Day.
This declining trend in sales growth during Singles' Day aligns with the plateauing popularity of the shopping holiday in recent years. Last year, sales increased by a mere 2.9%, as reported by Syntun data. In contrast, Alibaba experienced sales growth of 8.5% in 2021 and a staggering 85% in 2020.
The waning allure of this holiday may be indicative of a broader slowdown in China's economy. Factors such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the deteriorating property market crisis have added pressure to the overall economic landscape. It appears that these macroeconomic challenges have made Chinese consumers more value-conscious, evident through the slowdown in the country's previously robust GDP growth and weakened consumer confidence. Bain & Co, referring to their survey findings, has acknowledged the impact of these macro pressures even after China's full reopening from COVID-19 restrictions earlier this year.
As anticipation for Singles' Day diminishes, it is evident that a shift is occurring in Chinese consumers' purchasing behaviors. This evolving landscape poses new challenges for businesses and highlights the need for innovative strategies to captivate the value-focused mindset of consumers in the future.