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Contrary to the typically festive extravaganza, things were quite hushed surrounding the annual Alibaba Singles’ Day shopping event. The well-known shopping festival experienced one of its lowest results since its 2009 debut, with diminishing growth. The business decided not even to release the year’s final sales figures. A new era of disinterested consumer mood is being heralded by poor sales and a lack of media hype due to the nation’s stringent ongoing COVID-19 regulations.

2021’s multi-day event saw an 8.5% rise in gross merchandise value, which had been its lowest yet, following a 26% jump in 2020. Before 2020, the festival was a one-day event.

The event had become the world’s largest shopping festival, making America’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday pale in comparison. Bloomberg notes that analysts relied on the sales figure to gauge the status of China’s economy.

According to the market-data provider Syntun, online sales in China during the event totaled $43.3 billion across major retailers, based on transactions on several platforms. Syntun attributed 61% of the total sales to Alibaba’s flagship platform, Tmall, and 27% to JD.com.

Numerous observers are examining China’s stringent COVID policies, including city lockdowns and disruptions to commercial operations.

China recently eased some of the closures in an attempt to “optimize and adjust” the current measures, but the country still doesn’t seem to be planning to broaden any more restrictions anytime soon. 

A survey by the polling service of Southern Metropolis Daily, a major newspaper outlet based in Guangzhou, found that 24% of respondents didn’t plan to take advantage of this year’s Singles Day discounts, compared with 12% last year and 6% in 2020. One-third of those passing on Singles Day this year cited income reductions.

Lack of consumer interest coupled with an economic slowdown isn’t exactly preferred condition for such a sensationalized shopping event. Consumers are becoming more conscious of their spending habits across the globe, and poor Singles’ Day performance underscores this shift.

Competition plays a role in the weak turnout as well. Many consumers still spend their cash on Taobao and Tmall, Alibaba’s main shopping sites. Still, rivals like JD.com Inc. and Pinduoduo Inc. have been steadily gaining market share with their own shopping events. Even short-video sites like ByteDance Ltd.’s Douyin and Kuaishou Technology are vying for shoppers’ attention. Social commerce’s astronomical rise over the past few years has diminished the hype surrounding Alibaba’s social shopping experience. 

Shares of Alibaba rose 1.4% to $70.77 in New York trading on the Friday of the event.

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