Alibaba Spotlights Social Welfare in Last Hours of Toned-Down Singles’ Day Shopping Fest

By Reuters
November 11, 2021 Updated: November 11, 2021

BEIJING—Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. played down its sales figures and touted its social welfare initiatives in the final hours of its Singles’ Day festival on Thursday, marking a shift in tone for the highly-publicized annual online shopping event.

Eschewing a rolling tally tracking transactions that had taken center stage in previous years, Alibaba urged viewers of a three-hour livestream to click “like” and help raise 1 million yuan ($156,359.90) for a 200-acre (81-hectare) elephant reserve in China’s rural southwest.

The e-commerce giant has this year toned down the marketing hype amid ongoing regulatory tightening from Chinese authorities, saying its focus was on sustainable growth this year.

Alibaba turned China’s informal Singles’ Day into a shopping event in 2009 and built it into the world’s biggest online sales fest, dwarfing Cyber Monday in the United States.

Since then, the festival, which Alibaba last year stretched to a 11-day event with the best deals concentrated in two discount periods, Nov. 1–3 and Nov. 11, has become a closely watched gauge of consumer sentiment in the world’s second-largest economy.

It has traditionally published a final order tally after midnight when the festival ends. Last year, the company racked up $74 billion in orders, or “gross merchandise value” (GMV) over the event’s 11 days.

In previous years, Alibaba would tout Chinese consumers’ demand for washing machines, smartphones, and makeup with a nightlong presentation of statistics. But this year it has used its gala to highlight initiatives such as a program that assists disabled individuals in buying apparel and efforts to use more environmentally-friendly packaging.

Still, the event remains a top draw for millions of merchants and shoppers, with flashy deals and livestreamers hawking products from skincare to sports shoes on Alibaba’s platforms, including its Taobao and Tmall marketplaces.

Alibaba said that nearly 400 brands, including Apple Inc. and L’Oreal SA, have raked in more than $15 million in sales each mid-day on Thursday.

Analysts, however, say they are expecting Alibaba to report only a minor increase in GMV this year, citing slowing retail sales, supply shortages, power disruptions, and COVID-19 lockdowns.

The shopping event caps a year of ongoing regulatory tightening from the Chinese regime in several industries, during which Alibaba was a frequent target.

The e-commerce giant was fined a record $2.8 billion for monopolistic behavior in April and its founder, Jack Ma, China’s highest-profile entrepreneur, has retreated from public view after criticizing Chinese regulators a year ago.

($1 = 6.3916 Chinese yuan renminbi)

By Josh Horwitz