Marred by regulatory crackdown over the top homegrown technology companies by Beijing, China's biggest online shopping day, known as ‘Singles' Day' on November 11, is reported to have a muted response.
The Singles' Day shopping festival – also known as Double 11 – is a massive event for China's e-commerce companies. Last year, consumers spent $74 billion on Alibaba's online shopping platforms over the 11 days of the festival. Smaller rival JD.com reported $40 billion in sales during a similar time frame.
Alibaba – China's largest e-commerce firm – usually holds a massive gala the night before November 11. Past galas have featured superstars such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and even acrobatic acts by the Cirque du Soleil.
A glitzy live counter starts ticking at midnight to tally in real-time how much consumers have spent on Alibaba platforms like Taobao and Tmall. The festival is viewed as a barometer of consumption in the world's most populous country.
This year, Alibaba has toned down the hype. The Singles' Day online gala Thursday will be live-streamed due to COVID-19 outbreaks in parts of China. Alibaba says it is focusing on sustainability, supporting charities, and inclusivity – themes that align with Beijing's climate goals and Xi's calls for ‘common prosperity' that aims to curb inequality and excessive consumption.
“This year's muted festivities are a perfect storm of economic, competitive, and regulatory pressures,” said Michael Norris, research strategy manager at Shanghai-based consultancy AgencyChina.
“In terms of regulation, e-commerce platforms are coming to grips with how to align consumption extravaganzas with common prosperity' themes,” he said.
Earlier this year, e-commerce platform Pinduoduo pledged to give $1.5 billion in profits to farmers to boost their incomes, while Alibaba has committed $15.5 billion to subsidies for small and medium-sized enterprises and supporting workers in the gig economy, such as delivery drivers.
This year, Alibaba has also spotlighted sustainability, setting up packaging recycling points and partnering with brands to develop more eco-friendly packaging. Customers can donate a portion of the profit from their purchases to a charity organisation or project of their choice.
The shift to emphasising sustainability comes after Alibaba was fined a record $2.8 billion for violating antitrust rules. The government has been stepping up scrutiny of the technology sector and moving to curb monopolistic practices that hurt consumers' rights.
The squeeze on this year's Singles' Day sales may also reflect weaker consumer demand and shortages of some products due to shortfalls in materials and energy, as well as difficulties in moving products through snarled shipping and delivery channels.