A man works in the warehouse of Cainiao, the logistics arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba, in Guadalajara, Spain, on November 11 (XINHUA)
Cherry Wang, a 29-year-old designer in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, found herself not acting as impulsively during this year's Double 11 shopping festival as she had in previous years. The event was initiated by Taobao, an online marketplace of China's tech firm Alibaba, in 2009, and has become an annual shopping extravaganza that usually lasts for several days until November 11. Wang spent around 1,500 yuan ($235) this year, mainly on clothes, snacks, pet gear and car products. After receiving all the packages, she returned around a quarter of them.
"The services of e-commerce platforms were user-friendly this year. The prolonged period made it unnecessary to stay up late to snatch the best goods and discount rules were simplified. Getting a refund was also easier," she told Beijing Review.
Compared with previous editions, both Chinese e-commerce platforms and consumers appeared calmer this year. The platforms did not even unveil their real-time transaction data at midnight on November 11. Many consumers, instead of spending lavishly, searched online for tips to get large discounts and bargains, and placed their orders well before the festival's peak. Some who had already purchased a lot during shopping events earlier this year chose to tighten the belt.
Although consumers have displayed a more rational approach toward the Double 11 online spree, their demands have not contracted, but upgraded. They are consuming green, seeking high-quality and niche products and services, and embracing homegrown brands. Driven by the newfangled demands, this year's shopping festival still marked increasing sales for many sellers, especially small and medium-sized ones.
The total sales of the shopping festival were also driven by the boom of the lower-tier markets, Pan Helin, Executive Director of the Digital Economy Academy at the Wuhan-based Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, told Beijing Review. Data from JD.com, another popular Chinese e-commerce company, showed that over 77 percent of its new users during Double 11 came from lower-tier cities and rural areas.
The shopping campaign has shifted from a goldmine for e-commerce merchants to benefiting both online and offline sellers. According to Pan, online sellers can expand their trade from selling goods to selling services, such as car maintenance and household cleaning, and bolster delivery businesses that can range from fresh produce to flowers. E-commerce platforms still feature plenty of room for growth in these sectors, subsequently holding the potential to give the real economy a leg up.
The heat remains on
Tmall, Alibaba's business-to-customer marketplace, kicked off its presales on October 20 this year. According to the company, its gross merchandise value (GMV) during the event hit 540.3 billion yuan ($84 billion), up 8.5 percent from the corresponding period last year. It saw a record 290,000 brands participating, 65 percent of which were small and medium-sized businesses, manufacturers from domestic industrial belts and new brands.
From November 1 to 12:45 a.m. on November 11, 411 small and medium-sized brands on Tmall with their turnover exceeding 1 million yuan ($15,600) during last year's event saw their sales surpass 10 million yuan ($1.56 million). During this period, the number of brands with a revenue of more than 100 million yuan ($15.6 million) on Tmall reached 382, including tech giant Huawei, Chinese sportswear brand Erke and Internet-based new consumer brand Bananain.
JD.com also launched its presales on October 20 and changed the time of payment from the previously standard midnight to 8 p.m. It received a total order valued at 349.1 billion yuan ($54.7 billion), a record high. The profits of 43,276 merchants increased by more than 200 percent year on year.
The prolonged sales period of major e-commerce platforms eased pressure on delivery companies, which provided faster delivery services this year. According to China's State Post Bureau, courier sectors across the country delivered 4.776 billion packages between November 1 and 11, a year-on-year increase of over 20 percent. The number of packages delivered on November 11 alone reached around 1.1 billion, down 12.6 percent year on year.
Live-streaming continued to play a notable role in the shopping festival. Many participated in the online sales of famous live-streaming hosts like Li Jiaqi and Viya on Taobao. The two achieved 10.7 billion yuan ($1.7 billion) and 8.3 billion ($1.3 billion) in GMV respectively after some 10 hours of live-streaming on October 20.
The e-commerce companies also offered support to sellers in rural areas for promoting their products. Tmall saw the sales of e-commerce businesses from 832 counties that had shaken off absolute poverty by the end of 2020 grow by 28.8 percent year on year. The sales of agricultural products on JD.com during its shopping event also exceeded 30 billion yuan ($4.7 billion).
While international brands like Apple raked in large sales, homegrown time-honored and freshly sprouting brands also received their fair share of attention. As of 8 p.m. on November 11, over 200 time-honored brands witnessed more than 100-percent year-on-year growth of sales on Tmall. Many brands popping up on the Chinese market in recent years gained additional consumer recognition. According to JD.com, the total sales of China's tech brand Xiaomi from October 31 to November 11 exceeded those of Apple, reaching 19.3 billion yuan ($3 billion). The domestic brands also went global through cross-border e-commerce channels. Cainiao Network, the logistics arm of Alibaba, has established seven distribution centers across Europe to provide timely delivery services for local buyers. During this year's campaign, Erke saw its sales to foreign markets via Tmall and Taobao jump by sevenfold.
People select flowers at a market in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on November 11 (VCG)
The Double 11 shopping festival this year bore more hints of low-carbon efforts. With consumers in hot pursuit of green products such as energy-saving home appliances, e-commerce platforms and delivery companies alike introduced various "clean" measures like encouraging the reuse of packaging bags and boxes, clean energy for power generation in industrial zones and unmanned electric vehicles to replace gasoline cars.
As people embrace a greener mindfulness, the measures were largely echoed by the consuming public. During this year's Double 11, Cainiao and Tmall added 13,000 containers across the country for people to box up their reusable packings, offering them a pallet of eggs in return. A total of 4.8 million users participated in the campaign via an app. According to Tmall, its measures, including box recycling and green packaging, saved over 50,000 tons in carbon emission.
JD.com presented several low-carbon initiatives. These included recyclable packaging, the deployment of new-energy cargo vans and the use of photovoltaic power generation in its storage facilities to slash carbon emissions. The amount of reduced carbon emissions reached around 26,000 tons as of November 11.
The trend of buying secondhand also contributed to saving resources. Online retail platform Suning said that the number of people opting to trade in their old products for new ones increased by 47 percent year on year. According to Zhuanzhuan, an online secondhand marketplace, the deals in secondhand mobile phones during the shopping festival exceeded 170,000. Electric products, toys, home appliances and clothing also proved popular in the recycling trade. Young Chinese people, notably Gen Z, have become major users of the secondhand platforms, with many of them swapping cosplay costumes and huafu, traditional Chinese clothing.
An increasing number of consumers today choose to sell their used products before purchasing new ones. This also helped reduce carbon emissions of more than 4,300 tons during the Double 11 shopping festival, a report from Zhuanzhuan read.
(Print Edition Title: Consumption Craze Down, Business Verve Up)
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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