China’s annual “Singles Day” sales extravaganza, conceived by tech giant Alibaba in 2009, has grown into a colossal retail event. Last year, sales for Singles Day reached a staggering 1.1 trillion yuan ($153 billion). However, despite the flashy deals and discounts, consumers this year seem unswayed as the world’s second-largest economy slows down.
According to a recent report by consultancy firm Bain, 77 percent of consumers surveyed said they did not plan to spend more than usual during this year’s Singles Day event. This shift in consumer behavior is attributed to changing attitudes towards consumption. Zhang Chuwen, a recent graduate, noted that people nowadays are consuming less and have limited desires to buy numerous items. Instead, they are using sales events like Singles Day to purchase everyday necessities.
Many consumers have complained that this year’s Singles Day deals are not as good as in the past. Some websites even raised prices before the holiday, only to cut them back for the event. Guan Yonghao, a 21-year-old consumer, shared his disappointment, stating that prices on Singles Day were not significantly different from regular days. Consequently, he refrained from making any purchases, emphasizing the need to save money in an era where incomes are decreasing.
Vincent Marion, co-founder of VO2 Asia Pacific, a consultancy specializing in the digital economy, pointed out that this year’s stagnating sales reflect changing Chinese consumer habits. Marion mentioned that consumers have become more educated, demanding, and thoughtful in their spending. According to his firm, sales during the Singles Day promotions period were down 7.5 percent compared to the previous year. Consumers were more inclined to purchase everyday consumer goods rather than luxury items. This shift in preferences indicates a more conservative approach to purchasing among Chinese consumers.
Jacob Cooke, co-founder and CEO of e-commerce consulting firm WPIC Marketing + Technologies, explains that Singles Day has lost its allure due to a combination of factors. The proliferation of livestreaming and the emergence of secondary shopping festivals have reduced the appeal of Singles Day as a time for discounted purchases. Livestreamers, who attract millions of viewers for e-commerce giants in China, have also noticed a decline in sales compared to previous years. Liu Kai, an e-commerce livestreamer, expressed his disappointment with this year’s online sales, stating that they were not as good as previous years.
Although initially inspired by the celebration of singlehood, symbolized by the four ones in the date “11/11,” the essence of Singles Day has evolved over time. This year, the sales event began on some platforms as early as late October, extending the traditional single-day shopping spree. This expansion may have diluted the unique appeal of the event and contributed to consumer apathy.
Alibaba, along with its main rival JD.com, has chosen to withhold full sales figures for Singles Day for the first time ever. Last year, they reported flat sales from the previous year, raising concerns about the event’s downward trend. In response to the slowing economy, the Chinese government has introduced various measures to boost the ailing property sector and announced a massive infrastructure spending plan.
As China’s Singles Day gradually loses its luster, it serves as a testament to the changing landscape of consumerism. The decline in sales reflects shifting consumer preferences, a lack of confidence in the deals offered, and the emergence of competing shopping festivals. Alibaba and other e-commerce giants may need to innovate and adapt to ensure the future success of Singles Day.