China’s mega online shopping festivals losing lustre as Chinese tighten their belts


Shopping festivals in China are losing their shine given weak domestic demand and changing consumer preferences.- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (The Straits Times/ANN): Beijing resident Liu Zuyi used to scrimp and save months before the Double 11 sales – China’s largest online shopping festival – before splurging on discounted household items or gadgets.

As an undergraduate in the early 2010s, he recalled getting a 40 per cent discount on a laptop he had been eyeing all year. “The sales were always such a highlight of my year,” the accountant told The Straits Times.

But Mr Liu, now 33, did not buy a single item during the recent 618 online shopping festival. “I was not very motivated to buy anything because prices are not that much different any more, sales period or not,” he said.

The relevance of mega online shopping festivals such as 618 and Double 11 has come in for discussion in the Chinese media, given their lack of buzz among shoppers and how organisers have stopped releasing sales figures in the last few years.

Tech giants Alibaba and JD.com, which own the country’s two largest e-commerce platforms, have remained mum on the total value of goods sold during the shopping festival for the third year in a row, when they had previously released such data.

The Chinese media reported that more than 50 publishing houses in Shanghai and Beijing boycotted the 618 sales in 2024, after Alibaba and JD.com pressured retailers to offer discounts of up to 80 per cent to draw consumers.

After the Double 11, or Nov 11, sales in 2023, several surveys done by the local media found that respondents did not care for such shopping festivals any more.

About 63 per cent of 3,000 respondents in a survey by Sina Finance did not think Double 11 was relevant, compared with 19 per cent who said they would still stock up on necessities during the shopping festival.

Analysts told ST that shopping festivals in China are losing their shine given weak domestic demand and changing consumer preferences.

Domestic demand has been slow to recover since the Covid-19 pandemic and a regulatory clampdown on the property sector that started in 2020, leaving the Chinese feeling poorer and more uncertain of their economic prospects.

Dr Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank in Shanghai, said online shopping festivals will not be sufficient to boost flagging domestic demand in China.

“The weak domestic demand and weak consumption phenomena are permanent, not transitory,” she said, pointing to the country’s poor income growth.

People have also become blase about these festivals, with discounts no longer uncommon, said OCBC Bank’s head of research for Greater China Tommy Xie, in Singapore.

Assistant Professor Bai Guo of the China-Europe International Business School in Shanghai said consumers in China, especially young people, now attach more importance to values and environmental considerations in deciding whether to make a purchase.

“All these changes weaken the role of price discounts in purchasing decisions,” said Prof Bai, who studies strategy and entrepreneurship.

Shopping festivals like Double 11 and 618, which started around 2009, enjoyed huge increases in sales in their early years. But they have been hit by weakened consumption during the pandemic, amid China’s strict zero-Covid policies.

While the Double 11 and 618 festivals used to be one-day affairs, they have since become extended events. The recently concluded 618 sale, for instance, was held from May 20 to June 20.

Consumers in China say the country has a surfeit of shopping festivals and too much effort is needed to obtain a good discount, with buyers needing promotional codes and having to access various live-streaming sales rooms.

Retiree Kang Ju, 62, said: “Now, there are all kinds of sales happening all year round, such as 1212 (Dec 12 sales), 520 (I Love You sales) and even Chinese New Year sales.”

Retailers have been known to mark up prices months before sales just to create an impression that the prices are lower during the promotions, she added.

Some people said they are more careful about spending, given increased anxieties over the future after the pandemic.

Mr Liu, the accountant, said he is concerned about job security.

“I’ve really started to tighten my belt as I’m nearing 35,” he said, referring to China’s “curse of 35”, with employers in China reportedly discriminating against job candidates or employees aged 35 and above.

Mr Liu, who is single, added: “Shopping, or trying to find good deals, is really not a priority for me these few years. Instead, it’s about focusing on my job and making sure I have enough to support my elderly parents.”

Additional reporting by Miao Chunlei - The Straits Times/ANN

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China , Beijing , Online , Shopping , Festival , Losing Lustre

   

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