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Singles’ Day sales growth slows amid US-China trade tensions

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Chinese retail giant Alibaba has once broken its record for shopping sales event Singles Day, making a gargantuan 213 billion yuan (£24bn) in just 24 hours, but demand for big-ticket items fell due to China-US trade tensions.

Singles Day has become the biggest sales day overtaking Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. By comparison, Black Friday 2017 online sales hit a record $7.9bn (£6.11bn) in the US, according to Adobe. The IMRG calculated UK online sales at £1.39bn.

However, this year’s Singles Day comes as Alibaba’s growth is coming under pressure from China’s slowing economy, new rivals in the e-commerce industry and the trade war with the United States.

The 213.5bn yuan (£23.8bn) revenue haul was 27% higher than last year, though this represented the slowest rate of growth in the event’s 10-year history – after a rise of 39% in 2017. Singles Day is an informal holiday in China celebrating people not in relationships. Its date — November 11, or 11/11— is meant to symbolize singletons.

Shoppers in China and across the world snapped up items such as iPhones and furniture as well as everyday goods such as milk powder.

The year it was kicked off with a launch featuring celebrities such as Mariah Carey.

Singles’ Day, also known as Double 11, is the world’s biggest online sales date, outstripping Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined.

It was originally a novelty student event to celebrate being single, but has since grown into a month-long online shopping festival that peaks with a 24-hour event on 11 November. This year it took just under 16 hours for sales to surpass the previous year’s full-day sales record of 168 billion yuan (£18.7bn).

But the slowing rate of annual growth comes as Alibaba faces a weaker sales outlook amid trade tensions between China and the US that are pressuring China’s economy.

This was reflected in some of the sales patterns seen in Sunday’s event, with small appliances and cosmetics seeing strong growth but demand for big-ticket items slowing.

That was seen as a consequence of the downturn in China’s housing market – meaning there is less need for large household appliances.

The latest Singles’ Day is expected to be the last with founder and chairman Jack Ma at the helm, with chief executive Daniel Zhang expected to take over as chairman next September.

Zhang said at the Singles’ Day event: “Today we reached 200 billion (yuan). But we have to change. We have to continue to change to reach 300 billion or 500 billion.”


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