Firms hoping for continued online sales splurge
As China's e-commerce firms scramble to prepare for the biggest online shopping bonanza in the world - the Singles' Day shopping festival on November 11 - there are two key questions: Will the shopping spree continue its rapid growth momentum in its 10th year, and will recent economic woes and the trade war with the U.S. weigh on sales?
Coming at a time when the world's second-largest economy is facing significant internal and external challenges, this year's Singles' Day could shed some light on consumers' confidence in the economy, analysts noted. But while there may be some anxiety among consumers, sales could yet reach new highs this year, they said.
As always, online shopping platforms have been sparing no efforts to lure as many as shoppers as possible, with some boasting the biggest price cuts, some bragging about the most diversified product offerings, and others touting the best and fastest services.
Some new sales tactics have also emerged this year, said Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based veteran internet analyst.
"Rather than competing on price as in the past few years, this year e-commerce companies have attached a lot of emphasis to technology and services," Liu told the Global Times.
In October, Alibaba, which has been credited with turning the small November 11 singles celebration into a major online shopping event, opened a warehouse with 700 robots to assist with logistics on the busiest days of the year.
Reaching more shoppers by encouraging group sales and involving more brick-and-mortar stores is another trend, Liu noted, pointing to e-commerce firms' "new retail" strategies.
These strategies aim to combine online platforms with physical stores and to encourage "social media grouping," which offers incentives to shoppers who bring more people in through social media. "They want to turn this online festival into a shopping carnival for all," he said.
Another tactic has been to include overseas goods in the promotions. JD.com, one of the largest online shopping platforms in China, launched a sales event for foreign goods, naming it the "Global Good Products Festival." At the ongoing China International Import Expo in Shanghai, the company said it had signed a slew of contracts to purchase $14.47 billion worth of foreign goods.
But despite all the efforts from e-commerce firms, some shoppers are not as enthusiastic as they were in previous years.
"It's just not that exciting anymore. I feel like every day there is a sales event going on online," a consumer in Beijing, who asked not to be named, told the Global Times. She said that before she would buy everything from clothes to toilet paper on Singles' Day but this year she has not even looked. "I just don't feel like I need anything in particular this year."
However, she said her lack of enthusiasm "has nothing to do with the so-called economic slowdown or consumption downgrade."
The trade war with the U.S., which has seen rising tariffs on some products from the U.S., will not have an impact on sales, at least this year, since most of the products had already arrived in China.
"We already had our products way before the tariffs took effect," said Li Xin, who runs a company importing U.S. nuts such as almonds and pistachios. "But for the long run we are looking at some other sources of imports."
Sun Lijian, an economics professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, said that while challenges in the overall economy could cause some "anxiety" among consumers, domestic spending power remains strong.
"We have not reached a point where consumers are so worried that they don't want to spend money anymore. There are some anxieties but the situation is not as bad as some would suggest," he told the Global Times.
"This year, given the extended sales period and all the new strategies, we are likely to see even bigger [sales] numbers, although the growth rate might drop," Liu said.