China gears up for the world’s largest online shopping festival

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HONG KONG (AP) – Chinese consumers are expected to spend tens of billions of dollars on everything from fresh food to luxury goods at this year’s Singles Day online shopping festival, as the country recovers of the pandemic.

The shopping festival, which is the world’s largest and falls on November 11 each year, is an annual extravaganza where Chinese e-commerce companies, including Alibaba, JD.com and Pinduoduo, offer generous discounts on their platforms. . Last year, buyers spent $ 38.4 billion on Alibaba, Tmall and Taobao e-commerce platforms.

This year’s festival will be closely watched as a barometer of consumption in China, which is just starting to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic after months of lockdown earlier in the year.

Analysts expect Chinese consumers to spend more on imported goods and foreign luxury brands, as many Chinese tourists have been unable to travel abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic and the tightening of markets. travel restrictions.

A survey by consultancy firm Oliver Wyman found that 86% of Chinese consumers are willing to spend as much or more than during the Singles’ Day festival last year.

“In the last six months or so, affluent households have actually spent more money,” said Sean Shen, head of client skills and strategy for EY in Greater China. “We are also seeing that purchases of luxury segment products are increasing due to international travel restrictions.”

Sales of electronics and health and wellness products are also expected to increase as more people work from home and pay more attention to their health amid the pandemic, according to a report by consultancy firm Bain & Company.

To help merchants cope with the impact of the coronavirus, online platforms have extended the shopping festival period this year in hopes of boosting sales.

Alibaba and JD.com, the country’s two largest e-commerce companies, began offering discounts on October 21, three weeks before November 11. Some brands and merchants that have cut prices have reserved hundreds of millions of yuan (tens of millions of dollars) in sales within hours of the shopping festival.

Tang Chenghui, an electrical engineer who lives in Beijing sees Singles Day as an opportunity to stock up on snacks and imported products like milk from Australia. Before the festival, Tang pre-ordered 3 cans of duck eggs, 10 sachets of soy milk powder, two cans of yogurt, coffee, and wine.

“I’m buying more snacks this year because I just moved into a new apartment and have enough closet space to store the snacks I love,” Tang said. “Some of these products are really cheap during the Singles Day discounts. “

Unlike Black Friday and Cyber ​​Monday in the United States, Singles Day in China isn’t all about great deals. Alibaba pioneered the concept of Singles Day and is hosting an annual gala on November 11 with celebrity performances to entertain shoppers.

Ecommerce businesses don’t break down Singles Day sales volume by brand, so it’s unclear how much goes to overseas businesses, although some businesses may advertise their own performance.

Sales via live streaming and Alibaba’s annual gala are part of a “shoppertainment” trend that combines shopping and entertainment to become more attractive and engaging to shoppers.

The mini-games on online shopping platforms attract shoppers with larger discounts while encouraging them to spend more time in the app.

“Due to COVID-19, brands and retailers have doubled down on e-commerce and live commerce to drive growth, and this will show up strongly on (Singles Day) this year,” said Wang Xiaofeng, senior analyst at Forrester.

But while millions of shoppers spend hours on minigames hoping for better deals, some are upset at the complexity required to earn such discounts.

“Black Friday discounts tend to be better, and they’re simpler,” said Liu Zhirou, a 27-year-old Beijing-based accountant. “Now, I always ask my friends to help me buy things in the United States during Black Friday.”

“The rules for Singles Day discounts are getting more and more complicated,” she says. “I usually spend my money on Black Friday and buy less on Singles Day.”

PA researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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