The Singles Day shopping festival: Not so crazy anymore after all these years

Business & Technology

Where’s this year’s sales data? Alibaba and aren’t saying, and it seems Chinese shoppers are falling out of love with over-hyped online shopping festivals.

Illustration for The China Project by Alex Santafé

The Singles Day shopping festival, which started on October 20 on and on October 24 on Alibaba’s platforms, ended on November 11. Also known as Double Eleven because it was originally focused on November 11 (the date with four ones that is China’s unofficial anti-Valentine’s Day holiday that celebrates single people), Singles Day is China’s largest shopping festival, and the world’s largest single shopping event.

Since Alibaba first launched the festival in 2009, it has broken new records every year. In 2014, Alibaba’s total Singles Day gross merchandise volume (GMV) was less than $10 billion; by 2021, that had grown to 540.3 billion yuan ($84.5 billion). But even last year’s numbers represented slower growth: It was only an 8.5% increase over 2020, but from 2019 to 2020, Alibaba reported a seismic increase in GMV of 26%. In 2021, reported Singles Day GMV of 349.10 billion yuan ($49.09 billion), compared with 271.50 billion yuan ($38.18 billion) in 2020.

What about this year’s Singles Day? Alibaba and aren’t saying: For the first time ever, the two ecommerce giants have opted not to release Singles Day GMV data., which has released Singles Day GMV data since 2017, merely reported that this year’s festival had set a new record; while Alibaba, which has never failed to release GMV data since 2009, stated that this year’s transaction volume was the same as last year.

There are two main reasons the ecommerce giants may have declined to release their numbers: First, the data could look bad to the companies’ shareholders, but on the other hand, the companies might always want to present an image that is more suited to the “common prosperity” agenda of Xi Jinping.

Indeed, instead of GMV data, on November 11, Alibaba released a “Double 11 Social Value Report” that detailed activities on the company’s platforms in support of employment creation and entrepreneurship (e.g., the online shopping platform Taobao has added 1.2 million new merchants in the last year), assistance for farmers and the elderly (notably a special promotion for installing “yellow handrails” for the elderly for free), public welfare and charity donations, and green and low-carbon ecommerce.

Slivers of data

In the absence of GMV data, the following is a brief summary of loose strands of data on this year’s Singles Day:

  • On the afternoon of November 11, Alibaba reported that 25,343 items had achieved over a million units in sales, and more than 2,000 items had exceeded sales of 10 million units. In the four most popular product categories of toys, pets, outdoor sports, and jewelry, 3,434 brands had sales of over 10 million yuan ($1.40 million), and 358 brands achieved sales of over 100 million yuan ($14.06 million).
  • Also on November 11, Alibaba reported that more than 300 million users had watched live broadcasts during the Singles Day festival. As of November 10, the average daily viewership of new live broadcast channels on the company’s Taobao platform had increased by 561% year-on-year. Over the past year, Taobao has added more than 500,000 new live broadcast channels.
  • According to Alibaba’s Social Value Report, a total of 35.49 million agricultural products were sold in live broadcasts, and sales of more than 46,000 agricultural products increased by more than 100% year-on-year. According to, nearly 30% of primary agricultural products such as grain, oil, and tea achieved a year-on-year increase in sales of more than 100%.
  • On November 10, retailer reported that sales of smart home appliances increased by more than 150% month-on-month. Home electronics manufacturer TCL Technology reported GMV of all categories of smart home appliances of 3.4 billion yuan ($478.17 million), a year-on-year increase of 60%.
  • Consumer electronics manufacturer Lenovo reported on November 11 that total sales exceeded 8.6 billion yuan ($1.20 billion), including sales of 960 million yuan ($135.01 million) on the company official website, a year-on-year increase of 21%.
  • On November 12, State Post Bureau, the agency that regulates China’s postal service, reported that from November 1 to 11, express delivery companies in China handled a total of 4.27 billion express parcels, and the average daily processing volume was 1.3 times larger than the normal daily volume.
  • On November 11, the CEO of Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics company, stated that during this year’s Singles Day festival, Cainiao delivered more than 200 million packages, a record high.
  • During this year’s Singles Day festival, the single-day peak of people making use of China Mobile’s “middle number” service, which assigns both parties in a phone transaction with random numbers as a safety precaution, reached 58 million, an increase of more than 50% compared with normal usage rates, and over the whole period of the festival, the service was used a total of 920 million times.
  • Over the last few years, real estate companies have also started to make use of the Singles Day festival to provide discounts, subsidies, and other promotions for home buyers. On the evening of November 10, reported that the online home purchase transaction volume on its real estate platform increased by 238% year-on-year, although no specific numbers were provided.
  • On November 13, the commercial department of the Tibetan regional government reported that in this year’s Singles Day festival, Tibet achieved online retail sales of 1.88 billion yuan ($264.40 million), a year-on-year increase of 29.8%.

The thrill is gone

Amid the buzzkills of COVID zero and low retail sales growth, the decision of Alibaba and not to release GMV data for this year’s Singles Day festival has put a damper on the usual excitement and exuberance that have always accompanied the multitude of bargains, promotions, and ever-increasing annual sales numbers. And it is hard not to conclude that Chinese shoppers are gradually falling out of love with the big online shopping festivals.

In previous years, October 31 and November 10 would be sleepless nights for many shoppers staying up late to join in the new promotions commencing at midnight. But from 2021, and Alibaba shifted the start time of promotions to 8 p.m. instead, as fewer and fewer shoppers are willing to stay up late to partake in complex promotions with complicated rules.

In fact, Chinese online shoppers are suffering from discount fatigue. The Singles Day festival has always been billed as offering the lowest prices of the whole year, but in recent years, the rise of live broadcasts and special sales promotions throughout the year have offered shoppers 30% discounts on all the leading brands.

After this year’s Singles Day festival, several ecommerce platforms told a Chinese journalist that the “explosive nature” and “big promotion mentality” of the festival are decreasing year by year, as is the festival’s multiplier effect compared with sales during the rest of the year.

Singles Day will likely not disappear any time soon, but will instead become simpler, with fewer complex discounts and marketing gimmicks. And with the rise of livestreaming ecommerce, discount hunters can get the thrill of getting a bargain in a competitive atmosphere any day of the year.