Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. decided not to disclose full sales results for its signature Singles’ Day shopping festival for the first time, after forecasts that the figure may suffer a decline unprecedented in the event’s 14-year history.
Alibaba said in a statement gross merchandise value was “in line with last year’s GMV performance despite macro challenges and COVID-related impact.” Sales last year reached 540.3 billion yuan ($76.1 billion). Some 290,000 brands participated in 2022, the same as in 2021.
The company failed to disclose full sales results for its signature Singles’ Day shopping festival for the first time in 14 years, suggesting a disappointing turnout for its most important annual event. The event had become the world’s largest shopping festival, dwarfing Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States in terms of size and growth. Analysts long relied on the sales figure to gauge the health of China’s economy as well as the country’s No. 1 ecommerce platform operator.
Alibaba owns and operates Taobao and Tmall, which hold the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the ranking for Digital Commerce 360 Online Marketplaces.
Alibaba Singles’ Day GMV could fall amid China’s COVID-Zero policy
Created by Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang in 2009, Singles’ Day evolved from a university pun about single life into a multibillion-dollar extravaganza. In the heyday of the past decade, stars like Taylor Swift, Nicole Kidman and Kobe Bryant would make appearances on stage, as the ecommerce giant moved billions of dollars of merchandise, often at stunning discounts.
That festive atmosphere is long gone now. The company didn’t hold a gala celebration at all this year.
The retreat has come in part because of COVID lockdowns that undercut economic growth and in part because of a Communist Party crackdown on the private sector that began with Alibaba and co-founder Jack Ma. Even before this year’s event, analysts had grown concerned that the amount of goods sold may slip.
“Weak buying sentiment among mainland Chinese shoppers and logistical disruptions will persist amid ongoing mobility curbs under China’s COVID-Zero policy,” wrote Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Catherine Lim and Trini Tan.
Ecommerce competition in China
Competition is an issue too. While most consumers still flock to Taobao and Tmall, Alibaba’s main shopping sites, rivals such as JD.com Inc. and Pinduoduo Inc. have jumped into the fray and gained market share. Even short-video sites like ByteDance Ltd.’s Douyin and Kuaishou Technology are vying for shoppers’ attention.
“Overall platform diversification is a trend, driven by consumer behavior and brand strategy,” said Sherri He, managing director of Kearney Greater China. More and more brands have opened stores on JD.com and other platforms in the last one year, she said.
Consumers got a 50-yuan discount for every 300 yuan they paid on Tmall and a 30-yuan discount for every 200 yuan they paid on Taobao. JD.com and PDD also dangled similar discounts, though precise savings on any purchase varied widely and depended on whether merchants join the promotion campaigns.
Apart from rising rivalries, this year’s Singles’ Day was weighed down by China’s slow economic expansion. Gross domestic product in the third quarter rose 3.9%. Meanwhile, retail sales growth slowed to 2.5% in September from August’s 5.4% increase, according to data from the Chinese government.
Chinese tech giants have been dealing with weak consumption over the past two years as the country adheres to a hardline COVID-Zero policy, in addition to the tech crackdown. Revenues for both Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd. shrank for the first time on record in the June quarter with more than 14,000 people laid off during the same period.
Overall, the significance of the retail festival has diminished in recent years. Investors and employees focus on the political and economic environment.
“Singles’ Day has been totally diluted in terms of the impact,” said William Yuen, investment director at Invesco Hong Kong Ltd. “No one had much expectation about whether they would beat or not. I think it becomes more like a formality or a numbers game.”
Alibaba posts surprise loss as China COVID curbs take a toll
China’s ecommerce leader reported a surprise loss after quarterly revenue barely grew. The country’s rigid COVID controls continue to depress consumer sentiment.
Alibaba reported a net loss of 20.6 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) versus projections for a profit of almost the same amount, after it marked down the value of investments across a portfolio that spans Didi Global Inc. to Indonesia’s GoTo.
Alibaba is focusing on shoring up its bottom line as COVID policies and antitrust measures imposed during last year’s tech sector crackdown sap growth. And Chinese retail sales contracted 0.5% in October. That marks the first decline since May and worse than expectations for slight growth.
Executives sounded an optimistic note Nov. 17 on an easing of — or even an eventual end to — the pandemic restrictions that have snarled logistics, dampened retail activity and otherwise wrought havoc across the world’s No. 2 economy.
“With the introduction of the 20-point pandemic measures from the state authorities, that can be expected to have a positive impact. We certainly do note still some disruption to logistics in certain regions of the country,” Zhang told analysts on a post-earnings conference call. “But overall we do expect things to continue to improve in a positive direction.”
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