Workers at the China Post Group Corp branch in Nanchong, Sichuan province, sort packages on Tuesday amid booming online sales generated by the Singles Day shopping event on Wednesday. [Photo by Li Tao/For China Daily]

A buying frenzy kicked up a notch in China as the annual Nov 11, Singles Day sales event saw brands ringing up billions of yuan in online sales and customers snapping up imported items via e-commerce.

The shopping gala, entering its final stretch at midnight on Wednesday, is a sign of consumer vibrancy and economic strength in China, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the shift to e-commerce among consumers across all income levels, experts said.

Tmall, Alibaba”s business-to-customer platform, saw 342 brands hit 100 million yuan ($15 million) in sales between Nov 1 and the first 35 minutes of Nov 11. Among these, 13 brands, including Apple, Huawei and Midea, achieved 1 billion yuan.

For its twelfth edition, the traditionally 24-hour bonanza, a brainchild of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, has been prolonged for the first time. Alibaba added a new shopping window from Nov 1 to Nov 3, posting preferential offers in a bid to spur consumer buying that had been hampered by the pandemic.

The shopping festival, expected to draw over 800 million consumers and 5 million businesses, is set to become “the barometer of China’s continued economic recovery”, said Jennifer Ye, PwC consumer markets leader for the Chinese mainland.

“A ‘revenge buying’ spree following COVID, and new consumption patterns such as direct sales via livestreaming and private domain operations, have driven demand and sales,” she said. “We expect the sales to grow further this year with more intense competition among sellers.”

Key data points confirmed such forecasts: Alibaba reported gross merchandise volume on its platforms reaching 486.9 billion yuan from Nov 1 to 11 pm on Wednesday.

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While the merchandise volume for Nov 11, 2019, was 268.4 billion yuan, an apples-to-apples comparison is unlikely, given the event’s extension this year.

Over at JD, another major e-commerce player posting sales offers, accumulated sales from Nov 1 through to 2:26 pm on Wednesday topped 243.1 billion yuan, surpassing total sales of 204.4 billion yuan last year.

With COVID hindering transnational travel, digital vehicles are quickly becoming the primary way for foreign merchants to tap into the Chinese consumer market.

The sales of JD Worldwide, the company’s cross-border commerce unit, surged by over 120 percent on a yearly basis in the first 10 minutes, while JD’s imported goods supermarket saw sales rise by 2.5 times month-on-month within 30 minutes.

Over 1 million bottles of Estee Lauder’s eye cream, a long-time darling at overseas counters or airport duty free shops, were snapped up on Tmall from the start of the campaign to 10 am on Wednesday, while South Korean brand Whoo recorded 1 billion yuan worth of transactions for a skincare set during the same period.

Products from Japan, the United States and South Korea were the most popular with customers shopping for imported goods via Tmall Global, the platform’s cross-border arm. The most sought-after categories included nutrition supplements, facial skincare products and infant formula.

China is looking to nurture a strong domestic market and spur buying in an all-around way, an important pillar to shore up the new “dual-circulation “development pattern.

Consultancy Oliver Wyman found in a recent survey for this year’s shopping festival, 86 percent of consumers would be willing to spend the same as or more than what they did last year, indicating a further recovery in consumer buying since the pandemic.

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“China’s appetite for consumer goods-on steroids post-COVID-continues to amaze the rest of the world,” said Jacques Penhirin, the Oliver Wyman partner who led the survey.

Customers across all income levels are converting to online shopping, which puts new requirements on business owners, said Jonathan Cheng, who leads the retail practice of consultancy Bain & Co in China.

Via China Daily