Facing accusations, Alibaba founder Jack Ma says he never faked Singles’ Day sales data (updated)

Are the company’s rosy sales numbers too good to be true?

Source: Shutterstock.

Just as Alibaba celebrated a new milestone with RMB 268.4 billion (USD 38.4 billion) in gross merchandise volume (GMV) on Singles’ Day — a new record for the annual November 11 blowout — a claim that founder Jack Ma has cheated the world for a decade circulated on social platforms including Weibo and WeChat.

A Weibo user named Yin Liqing made a post in April alleging that Alibaba has been fabricating Singles’ Day GMV data for years. Alibaba organized its first Singles’ Day in 2009, when it logged RMB 52 million in sales in 24 hours. November 11 was later designated as the day for an annual shopping bonanza.

Yin said that when he matched Alibaba’s Singles’ Day GMV numbers to a cubic regression curve, the data points and the curve formed a 99.94% fit and used this to estimate that in 2019, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day GMV would fall in the range of RMB 267.5 – 268.9 billion. He argued that it’s highly improbable for a company’s growth in sales to follow such a tight fit.

Yin, who works as a department manager of a Beijing-based software company, concluded that Jack Ma had faked the data to draw attention to Singles’ Day promotions.

When Alibaba announced this year’s sales figures for its November 11 sale, Yin’s post from more than half a year ago went viral. His original post has been taken offline, though screenshots are being circulated, spurring data experts to examine his claims. The general public has also taken a strong interest in the matter.

An unnamed source told KrASIA that Yin’s logic is flawed because he only has 11 data points, adding that if a detailed breakdown of Alibaba’s Singles Days GMV data is released, data experts might be able to figure out whether Alibaba has faked its data.

Peng Mei, a spokesperson of Alibaba, said via Tmall’s Sina Weibo account that Yin is a rumormonger and must shoulder legal consequences for circulating a hoax. Peng said that if all data in line with statistical trends is faked, world economy data could also be faked as movements at those scales often fall within expectations.

Alibaba has commenced legal action against Yin, Chinese media outlet National Business Daily reported on Tuesday, citing statements from Tmall.

Alibaba has not replied to KrASIA’s request for a comment.

After this Weibo post alleging that Alibaba has been faking its annual Singles’ Day sales numbers went viral, chairmanand CEO Daniel Zhang spoke in Beijing on Thursday and said that all data available to the public was generated as buyers made purchases, and that Alibaba is not capable of adjusting the data, according to 36Kr.

Zhang said that authenticity is the most important thing, adding that development of Singles’ Day shopping bonanza over the past 11 years has been in accordance with social and the economic order.

“We hope to do better and also hope to have better data, but we are more focused on serving users wholeheartedly,” said Zhang.

Jack Ma also refuted the allegation while attending the fifth World Zhejiang Entrepreneurs Convention held on Thursday in Hangzhou, according to 36Kr.

“My numbers are better than what Wall Street predicted, and someone even suspected that I have faked the data. I promise that in the era of data, in the era of the internet, every cent is tracked with precision,” said Ma, who retired from his post as Alibaba chairman in September.

Ma also said that Alibaba used to buy low-quality products hosted on its own platforms, though he did not mention what quantities these purchases represented.

At a session at the World Economic Forum held in January in Davos, Ma told his audience that during the early days of Alibaba, the site had few buyers but a glut of sellers. He said, “We buy all the garbage they sell and throw them in a room we never open.”

He justified this by saying the company had to win merchants’ trust as they were still testing the platforms. Ma said merchants eventually listed goods of higher quality on Alibaba, helping the company acquire new buyers and grow.

36Kr is KrASIA’s parent company.

The report was updated on Friday, November 15, to include recent developments.