China’s M-Commerce Explosion Drives 32 Percent Singles’ Day Sales Growth

Alibaba’s gigantic online shopping holiday saw another record-smashing year in China, with mobile continuing to become an even more dominant shopping platform.

For the November 11 Singles’ Day shopping event, sales reached US$17.8 billion (RMB120.7 billion) on Alibaba platforms alone, rising from last year’s $14.3 billion. This marked a growth rate of 32 percent, down from over 60 percent last year. The total number of transactions hit the 1 billion mark this year (1.04 billion to be exact), up from 710 million last year.

While the day is known as a significant discount holiday, luxury brands also got in on the action after Tmall held a special live-streamed fashion show to promote its Singles’ Day luxury sales. Beauty brands were especially active, as Clarins sold face masks at discounts of 59 percent and Lancôme had the largest total number of beauty product promotions, according to analysis by Clavis Insight. Other premium and luxury brands with promotions for the event included Sephora, Burberry, Apple, and Maserati. 

The ascent of mobile sales was a key theme of the event again this year as $14.6 billion of the orders were made on mobile devices, taking up about 82 percent of all orders and marking 657 million different deliveries. This was a significant jump from last year’s mobile sales of $9.8 billion, which was spent on 467 million orders.

A KPMG study released on Singles’ Day also found that mobile sales are becoming increasingly dominant in China’s e-commerce market, as the firm’s third annual “Connected Consumers” found that 90.4 percent of 2,560 Chinese survey respondents had made a purchase over a smartphone in the past year. This rate was far higher than rates for the United States and the UK, which came in at 74 percent and 74.6 percent, respectively.

David and Victoria Beckham at a promotional event in China on Alibaba's Singles' Day. (Courtesy Photo)

“The meteoric rise in online and mobile activity points to a Chinese consumer that is increasingly sophisticated, hungry for information, more likely to spend and keen on accessing a greater variety of products,” says Jessie Qian, a partner in charge of consumer markets at KPMG China. 

“Although desktops and laptops are still the most commonly used devices for shopping, with smartphone use in China skyrocketing, we expect m-commerce to become the preferred medium for many consumers throughout their entire shopping journey, encompassing initial product research, purchase and final payment, as well as product review,” she says.

Cross-border e-commerce was another key source of sales, as 37 percent of buyers bought from 235 different countries and brands. The top five countries for international orders were Japan, the United States, South Korea, Australia, and Germany.

Despite another year of double-digit growth, experts took note of the slower rate from last year as the world reeled from Trump’s U.S. presidential election victory. Singer Katy Perry had been scheduled to appear at Alibaba’s Singles’ Day promotional event with Kobe Bryant and Victoria and David Beckham, but canceled at the last minute due to a “family emergency,” sparking speculation that she dropped out for a reason related to the U.S. election due to her ardent support of Hillary Clinton. Alibaba socks were down 1.4 percent by the end of the day Friday despite the massive sales growth, with experts attributing the dip to uncertainty over Trump’s future trade policies toward China.

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