Brands rake in millions as Alibaba’s toned-down Singles’ Day enters last stretch

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SHANGHAI, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Alibaba said that nearly 400 brands, including Apple Inc and L’Oreal SA, have raked in more than $15 million in sales each during its Singles Day extravaganza, as the toned-down event headed into its final hours on Thursday.

Alibaba Group turned China’s informal Singles’ Day into a shopping event in 2009 and built it into the world’s biggest online sales fest, dwarfing Cyber Monday in the United States.

But the e-commerce giant this year has toned down the marketing hype amid stringent regulatory scrutiny, opting not to provide real-time sales data and saying its focus was on sustainable growth this year.

It also did away with an audience for its annual entertainment gala and has not invited reporters to a media centre for the first time, citing COVID-19 precautions. The company provided a livestream instead.

“China’s Double 11 loses glamour, focuses on high-quality growth amid tight regulations,” said the headline of a Wednesday report by the state-backed Global Times newspaper.

Still, the event remains a top draw for millions of merchants and shoppers, with flashy deals and livestreamers hawking products from skincare to sports shoes on Alibaba’s platforms, including its Taobao and Tmall marketplaces.

Last year, it stretched the original one-day event into an 11-day festival, with the best deals concentrated in two discount periods, Nov. 1-3 and Nov. 11. During that period, it said it racked up $74 billion in orders, or “gross merchandise value” (GMV).

Rivals such as JD.com also have Singles’ Day events. On Thursday, JD.com said its sales, which started on Nov. 1, reached 311.4 billion yuan ($48.72 billion) by 2:09 p.m. local time (0609 GMT) on Thursday, up from 271.5 billion yuan over the same time period last year. JD.com did not provide live sales updates.

On the eve of the event’s final 24 hours, Alibaba’s livestreamed gala on Wednesday featured British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, known for his portrayal of fictional crime-fighter Sherlock Holmes, who provided clues to puzzles the hosts solved via video message. Before the pandemic, Singles’ Day galas saw in-person performances by stars such as Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams.

Track star Su Bingtian, the first Chinese person to compete in the men’s 100-meter final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, also appeared this year, along with other Chinese celebrities and performers.

The shopping event caps a year of ongoing regulatory tightening from Chinese authorities in several industries, during which Alibaba was a frequent target.

The e-commerce giant was fined a record $2.8 billion for monopolistic behaviour in April and its founder, Jack Ma, China’s highest-profile entrepreneur, has retreated from public view after criticising Chinese regulators a year ago.

The crackdown has extended into the Singles’ Day sales period. On Nov. 5, regulators in Guangdong Province convened with a number of e-commerce companies, including Alibaba to warn about uncompetitive practices, fake merchandise, and other issues.

Alibaba declined to comment on the meeting.

($1 = 6.3916 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Brenda Goh, Stephen Coates and Gerry Doyle)

Photo- A couple stand in front of the advertisement for Single’s Day sales in a shopping mall in Shanghai, China, 11 November 2021. Singles Day, known in China as ‘11.11 ‘, and considered the day of most online shopping in the world, started in 2009 at the initiative of the e-commerce giant Alibaba with less than thirty participants, but over the years, its popularity has multiplied. EPA-EFE/ALEX PLAVEVSKI

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