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    First Post-Pandemic ‘Double Eleven’ Starts Strong — and Early

    Some shoppers are relishing the extended opportunity to make the most of Alibaba’s Singles Day discounts. Others say the new two-phase format is only stressing them out.

    With China’s economy still recovering from COVID-19, e-commerce giant Alibaba has upped the ante for this year’s “Double Eleven” event, extending the annual online shopping bonanza to include two separate purchase-and-delivery windows.

    Alibaba invented the Double Eleven e-commerce festival — also known as Singles Day because it’s held on Nov. 11 — in 2009. This year, to jump-start consumer spending after the pandemic, the Hangzhou-based company has encouraged people to get in on the action weeks in advance.

    Since Oct. 21, would-be shoppers have been able to preorder items by making small deposits, typically between 10 and 100 yuan ($1.50 to $15). From Nov. 1, they have 72 hours to pay the balance on the items in their virtual shopping carts and get them delivered early. Nov. 4, meanwhile, marks the start of a second preorder window, with consumers able to then pay their balances and receive delivery of those items from Nov. 11 — the true Double Eleven.

    Riffing off recent memes celebrating dagong ren, or “laborers” whose sole focus in life is making money, China’s online shoppers have embraced the self-deprecating term weikuan ren, referring to those who still have to pay the balances on their coveted items come November. Before Halloween this year, some consumers even joked that they were “the ghost of poverty,” in anticipation of the amount of money they still owed Alibaba and its third-party vendors.

    This year, China’s State Post Bureau has estimated that some 5.8 billion packages will be delivered between Nov. 1 and Nov. 16, representing a 47% increase from the same period last year.

    Ye Chenxuan has already spent over 30,000 yuan on Double Eleven deals, snatching up products such as cosmetics, clothes, and daily necessities. Since Nov. 1, she has received four out of the more than 50 orders she’s expecting. “It feels better receiving items a week earlier than usual,” the 29-year-old stay-at-home mom told Sixth Tone. “But I also feel less excited because it lasts for such a long time — I might have no energy left for the rest of the festival.”

    For hardcore shoppers, however, the extended event gives them more time to search for discounts and meticulously plan out how much they can afford to spend.

    “I felt that I didn’t get the cheapest discounts during the first wave, and I hope to do better during the second wave,” Shanghai resident Emily Zhao told Sixth Tone. Like many other Singles Day shoppers, Zhao has had to cancel some of her orders after realizing she forgot to apply coupons or wasn’t given early-bird discounts. For her, each year’s Double Eleven festival is like an exam — and this year, the platforms are giving her a chance to re-sit the test and correct her mistakes.

    While domestic and international brands alike have been hit hard by COVID-19, Alibaba believes its Double Eleven festival will be an important economic growth driver. “The pandemic has fundamentally changed consumer shopping preferences and accelerated digital transformation of many businesses,” Jiang Fan, president of Alibaba’s flagship online marketplaces Taobao and Tmall, said last month.

    Alibaba’s express goal of helping Double Eleven merchants “tell their brand stories amid the pandemic” is consistent with previous efforts by the Chinese authorities to encourage consumption amid COVID-19 and keep local economies afloat. In May, Shanghai launched a “Double Five” online shopping festival that raked in 15.6 billion yuan in just its first 24 hours. Several cities across the country have also turned to “consumption coupons” — government-issued discounts on select items — to incentivize spending.

    Each year since its inception, the Double Eleven shopping festival has broken the previous year’s record. In 2019, Alibaba reported 268 billion yuan in sales. While the company has not made projections or released early data for this year’s extended event, the company said it would provide 14 million discounted items to some 800 million consumers, including over 100 bestselling vehicles and even homes from around 3,000 property sites.

    According to a press release sent to Sixth Tone, in just the first two hours after the clock struck midnight on Nov. 1, some 100 brands — including sports labels Nike and Adidas, cellphone makers Huawei and Xiaomi, and cosmetics giants L’Oréal and Estée Lauder — recorded more than 100 million yuan in sales. Alibaba is expected to release its total sales figure later this month.

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: Workers pack goods at a warehouse in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, Nov. 2, 2020. Si Wei/People Visual)