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Singles’ Day Sales Growth Slows, but Cross-Border Commerce and Livestreaming Shine On

Alibaba Group declined to release the exact results for its 14th annual 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, also known as Singles’ Day, instead noting that results were “in line with last year’s GMV performance despite macro challenges and COVID-related impact.” While this implies growth may be slowing for the event overall, it’s still undeniably massive — Singles’ Day rang up RMB 540.3 billion ($84.54 billion) in gross merchandise volume (GMV) for Alibaba alone in 2021 — and the fact that 1,009 overseas brands saw GMV more than double year-over-year proves that it remains a great way for Western brands to break into China.

Analysts with Citi reportedly forecast Alibaba’s GMV for the event ranging from RMB 545 billion and RMB 560 billion ($75 billion to $77 billion), representing growth of 0.9% to 3.6%, according to Reuters. This would be well below the 8.5% growth recorded in 2021 and the 26% jump in 2020. However, investors generally felt bullish despite the likely lukewarm results. Alibaba’s share price ended Nov. 11 up 1.4%, while JD.com rose more than 6%, Baidu nearly 4% and Weibo nearly 8%.

The optimism may be due to easing of COVID restrictions in China that reportedly include shortened quarantine requirements and simplified travel rules, according to NPR. Reduced COVID fears could lead to greater spending as shoppers return to old habits, and this Singles’ Day festival was aimed at boosting future performance — a move that could help retailers take advantage of the opportunity.

“Our priority for this 11.11 was to enhance certainty for our merchants’ operations,” said Chui Xue, President of Industry Development and Operation Center of Taobao and Tmall at Alibaba Group in a statement. “We are pleased to have helped our participating brands and merchants accumulate new loyal customers during the festival which will serve as a strong foundation for their sustainable operation.”

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Singles’ Day Proves the Potential of Cross-Border Commerce

Cross-border commerce in China can be a lucrative proposition year-round — 67% of China’s cross-border shoppers plan to spend more in 2022 than 2021 — but Singles’ Day provides a great chance for new brands to make a splash and established brands to find new customers. Alibaba has partnered with international retailers to bring them onboard, and these types of strong partnerships are key to success in China.

Western retailers saw success on other platforms as well, particularly JD.com. The marketplace declined to publish its total GMV or sales growth but noted multiple successful overseas brands during the first minute of JD Singles’ Day “Peak 28 Hours,” which started at 8 p.m. on Nov. 10 and featured some of the biggest promotions. Highlights included:

  • Apple sold over RMB 1 billion ($140 million) worth of products;
  • Transaction volume from brands from LVMH Group increased 18X;
  • Transaction volume for 87 international beauty brands including Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and L’Occitane tripled; and
  • More than 500 international brands on JD Worldwide saw their transaction volumes increase over 100%.

The brands have noted this success and acted accordingly. “We have partnered with JD.com for 19 premium brands in the categories of fashion clothing, bags, jewelry, watches, wines and spirits, perfumes and cosmetics,” said Andrew Wu, LVHM Group President of Greater China in a statement. “During this year alone, we have added 10 key brands to the collaboration.”

The loosening of lockdown restrictions could boost China’s overall economy, but could also potentially cause a slowdown in cross-border commerce. The simplified travel rules make it significantly less onerous for people to enter China by reducing quarantine times and PCR test requirements, which could bolster international travel. However, restrictions haven’t been eliminated altogether, leaving ecommerce a far more convenient channel for Chinese seeking to acquire foreign goods.

Livestreaming Lets Chinese Shoppers Explore U.S. Stores

Livestreaming remains one of the biggest touch points for Singles’ Day shoppers, and 2022 reached nearly 300 million consumers through this channel alone. During the sales period, 62 influencer and retailer-run livestream channels surpassed RMB 100 million ($14.2 million) in sales, and another 632 surpassed RMB 10 million ($1.4 million).

Livestreaming also offers a great opportunity for Western retailers. Tmall’s partnership with Simon Properties and Shop Premium Outlets included a two-hour livestream from Woodbury Common that attracted nearly 1.4 million viewers who had the opportunity to virtually browse the stores of Michael Kors, Coach and Stuart Weitzman.

“We obviously wanted to partner with the best partner we could in China,” said Greg Giraudi, President of Shop Premium Outlets in a statement. “The partnership with Tmall Global is innovative and groundbreaking because we brought together Shop Premium Outlets, Simon Outlet Centers and actual brand stores within those outlet centers all together. A Chinese consumer can virtually be placed at the store location as if they were purchasing from the actual store.”

Singles’ Day also proved that livestreaming doesn’t have to be a phenomenon aimed at drawing thousands of people with huge names and mainstream products. Rural livestreamers on Taobao Live hosted more than 100,000 events featuring local products, and the livestreaming platform doubled the GMV of more than 46,000 SKUs during the sales period from Oct. 31 to Nov. 7.

Delivery Tech Drives Efficiency and Sustainability

High ecommerce volumes also generate a lot of packaging, and Alibaba has taken steps to improve the logistics of the holiday — as well as mitigate its impact on the environment. In 2021, China became the first country to ship 100 billion parcels in one year, reaching 108 billion, according to Pitney Bowes. Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics network, delivered 120 million packages for Singles’ Day alone.

Nearly 2 million of those parcels were delivered by 700 Xiaomanlv automated guided vehicles (AMV), which is double the number from 2021. The AMVs can carry about 50 packages at a time and travel 100 kilometers on a single charge, while navigating their way 99.9% of the time without human intervention, reducing the amount of labor necessary to make deliveries.

Cainiao also did its part for the environment by rolling out a package recycling initiative across more than 130,000 Cainiao Post stations during this year’s event. The company recycled nearly 4 million carton parcel boxes from Nov. 1-11, helping a daily average of more than 100,000 consumers keep packaging from landfills across its stations.

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