The evolution of China's online shopping habits
By Li Xiaoyang  ·  2022-11-21  ·   Source: NO.47 NOVEMBER 24, 2022
Parcels on an automated conveyor belt of logistics service provider SF Express in Tianjin on November 10 (XINHUA)

Initiated by China's e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2009 and taking place from late October until November 11 this year, the annual online shopping bonanza Double 11, roughly China's answer to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has been a great opportunity for many domestic and overseas consumers to make their purchases in order to obtain the greatest possible markdown.

Over recent years, the boom of e-commerce platforms, improved logistics services and new forms of promotion like live-streaming have boosted spending. Nevertheless, despite predictions of sharply declining sales due to the impacts of COVID-19 and the economic downturn this year, the results are likely to be better than expected.

Leading online retail platforms like Tmall, owned by Alibaba, and did not release their total Double 11 turnover figures for this year. Tmall said its gross merchandise volume (GMV) was roughly the same as the 2021 volume valued at 540.3 billion yuan ($76.53 billion).'s GMV growth was faster than the industrial average and its number of shoppers also saw significant growth, according to the company.

"Consumers as a whole were less fanatical this year compared with previous years. While some groups cut expenditure, demands for necessities remained and new demands further rose," Cui Lili, Director of the Institute of E-Commerce at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, told Beijing Review.

Still busy and buzzy

Cosmetics brand Florasis, which uses traditional Chinese elements in its packaging, saw its total sales on Tmall exceed 100 million yuan ($14.1 million) within the first hour after Double 11 presales started at 8 p.m. on October 24. Tmall said the turnover of 102 brands, among which more than half were homegrown, topped the 100-million-yuan mark during the period. The hourly order volume of some brands was even bigger than their daily total for November 11 last year.

Moreover, according to the State Post Bureau, express delivery firms nationwide handled 4.27 billion parcels, mostly sent by e-commerce vendors to shoppers, from November 1 to 11. On November 11 alone, parcel volume hit 552 million, 1.8 times the daily average.

An increasing variety of imported goods also reached Chinese consumers through e-commerce platforms. According to, the overall transaction value of country-specific stores on the platform, popularly known as "national pavilions," increased by more than 12 times year on year within 10 minutes after presales kicked off on October 24.

While Chinese consumers embraced global products, more Chinese products also entered the overseas market. On October 27, AliExpress, a global online retail marketplace operated by Alibaba, said its sales of China-made projectors had risen 250 percent year on year in Brazil in the previous 30 days.

New players also joined the game, like short video platforms Douyin, China's version of TikTok, and Kuaishou. According to Douyin, its average daily sales rose by 156 percent year on year during the event this year. Kuaishou said the value of e-commerce orders generated by its short videos rose by 515 percent year on year in the period.

As all participants vied to engage live-streamers to attract potential shoppers, many online celebrities and influencers with large followings appeared in promotional activities to endorse products. Some even worked exhausting schedules as anchors.

However, it still takes time to improve newcomer recognition among consumers. Tao Hui, a Beijing-based Douyin user, often makes purchases while watching live-streams. However, she requires refunds on several products she purchased during the shopping festival. "The products I received were not the same as those shown in the live-streams, and after-sales services were slow. They need to offer a good customer experience," Tao told Beijing Review.

Changing consumers

Before the online retail boom, Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman already predicted how today's consumers would be living in his book Work, Consumerism and the New Poor, published in 1998. Bauman criticized how consumerism drove people to consume only to keep up with trends. His critique is gaining traction among Chinese consumers, who are becoming increasingly aware of the pitfalls of unrestrained consumerism.

"I only bought some snacks and baby products during the shopping festival this year, costing less than 200 yuan ($28.47). This was largely because of my changing lifestyle," Pei Qi told Beijing Review.

According to the 30-something employee of a financial company in Hubei Province, she used to purchase piles of cosmetics, clothing and items for daily life worth over 2,000 yuan ($284.7) during Double 11 in previous years. "But I found the complicated rules for discounts actually did not help cut costs all that much. And I have turned to the 'less is more' lifestyle and stopped stocking up on things at home."

Many people, like Pei, have redefined their priorities when making purchasing decisions. As the ad campaign rolls out, people are only buying what they really need instead of making impulsive and excessive purchases. Low prices and huge discounts are no longer appealing for many consumers seeking high-quality and durable products.

In line with the new consumption concept, many young Chinese adults are living thriftier lives. Every social media platform gives people tips on how to save money, like how to avoid wasting that last bit of facial cleanser. But they are not becoming totally stingy. They are still willing to pay for items in which they have special interest, such as gaming devices and associated equipment, cultural products and distinctive clothing such as hanfu, the traditional dress of the Han ethnic group.

Huang Min, a 20-something illustrator based in Guangdong Province, purchased a virtual reality headset for around 2,000 yuan during this year's shopping festival. "There are indeed some discounts and freebies; I'm still willing to pay for what I like," Huang told Beijing Review.

More people are participating in green consumption trends, and will trade or exchange idled items like electronic devices on platforms for secondhand products. According to data from online retailer Suning, volume of its trade-in transactions rose 122 percent month on month, and sales of energy-efficient home appliances on its platform jumped 141 percent year on year during this year's Double 11.

Various niche and personalized demands continued to expand. "This year, demands for jewelry, sports and pet products continued to grow," Cui said. Camping, indoor and outdoor exercise products were also popular. Data from Tmall showed sales volume of camping equipment registered a 115-percent year-on-year surge, while that of the ski equipment and accessories grew 61.9 percent year on year within the first hour of this year's Double 11.

New forces

According to Cui, domestic economic downward pressure and external uncertainties have affected consumer expectations on income. But her observations are not all negative. Some small cities and towns have seen consumption upgrading, as the relocation of industries from coastal areas has boosted local growth and improved incomes.

"As e-commerce prevails, consumers in these places who have deeper pockets have greater access to the latest trends, which makes them strong driving forces in consumption," Cui said. 

Printed edition title:In Transition          

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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