China’s annual e-tail frenzy broke records – trust us, say government, Alibaba and JD.com
5.26 billion packages shipped, 639 million on Saturday alone. But nobody's puffing up the cash pile
Alibaba and JD.com have forged a new holiday tradition by discussing anything but the revenue generated by the nation's annual 11.11 "Singles' day" e-tail frenzy.
November 11 has long been an unofficial and slightly ironic holiday in China, as the day celebrates single life – in contrast to the many other Chinese festivals that emphasize family.
In 2009 Alibaba offered big e-tail discounts on the day, and the idea has since snowballed – with huge growth in sales and interest across a decade as the shopping festival spread across the first eleven days of November. The Chinese retail festival now generates more revenue than Amazon's comparable events – over $80 billion across the eleven days.
One of the traditions of 11.11 has been that year after year China's e-tail giants post news of giant revenue growth from sales on the day – plus the feats of datacenter innovation needed to make it happen. That is, until 2022, when China's COVID-bruised economy saw Alibaba decide not to detail revenue – a move thought to reflect growth having slowed.
Alibaba made the same choice this year, enthusing about year-on-year growth of "gross merchandise value" without further explanation. JD.com reported "transaction volume, order volume, and user engagement reaching all-time highs" but didn't enumerate those jumps.
Which rather seems like the puff may have gone out of 11.11 – notwithstanding JD.com's assertion that "transaction volume of both men's and women's down jackets increased more than 100 percent year-on-year."
Which would be great to know if we'd been told how many sold last year. You see the problem.
JD.com also pulled out a few tech stats, including:
- Transaction volume of Apple products surpassed ¥10 billion ($1.4 billion);
- Transaction volume of folding screen mobile phones increased more than 300 percent year-over-year;
- Transaction volume of AR glasses increased fourfold year-over-year;
- Trade-in service orders for electronics increased nearly fourfold year-over-year, with transaction volume of extended guarantee and screen breakage insurance increasing 100 percent;
- New energy vehicles and accessories saw user numbers increase more than 300 percent year-over-year.
Another interesting number JD chose to mention was a 362 percent year-on-year increase for 11.11 sales to its European brand, ochama.
Alibaba chose to highlight the 1.5 billion instances of merchants using its AI tools during and in preparation for 11.11, but also cited data from China's State Post Bureau about record package movements as an indicator of 11.11's success in 2023.
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The Bureau reported that across the ten days of 11.11-related shopping action, it spotted 5.26 billion express delivery packages – up 23.22 percent year-on-year – with 639 million shifted on Saturday the 11th alone. That's up 15.76 percent year-on-year.
"The surging express delivery business contributes to the recovery and expansion of the consumer market and fully demonstrates the resilience and vitality of the Chinese economy," the Bureau told state newswire Xinhua.
That quote is telling, as China's economy has been in the doldrums of late. Bold declarations of its strength on the basis of package shipments is typical Beijing optimism – and also all it's got, given its major e-tailers' reluctance to reveal revenue numbers that would tell us if Chinese consumers are spending up big … or buying lots of little items instead. ®