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E-commerce giants show shift towards sustainability on Singles’ Day

Written by Mengyuan Ge Published on     3 mins read

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Major platforms highlighted sustainability efforts instead of sales numbers during the world’s largest shopping event.

During this year’s Singles’ Day shopping festival, China’s e-commerce giants kept an unprecedented low profile about their sales. As usual, Alibaba and JD.com posted record-high sales across their platforms, but instead of only numbers, both firms highlighted their efforts toward sustainability and “social responsibility actions.”

Traditionally, Alibaba releases gross merchandise value (GMV) figures for the 11.11 pre-sales period and delivers real-time updates about sales figures during the 24 hours of Singles’ Day, followed by a big celebration after midnight on November 11. This year, however, the company only announced sales numbers after the conclusion of the shopping bonanza.

“I believe the value that 11.11 offers is more than just GMV figures,” Alibaba chief marketing officer Chris Tung said in a statement. “This year’s festival marks a new chapter for 11.11. We believe we must leverage the power of 11.11 to encourage sustainable development and promote inclusiveness to consumers, merchants, and partners across our ecosystem.”

Alibaba promoted some of its sustainability efforts such as a parcel recycling initiative driven by its logistics arm, Cainiao. It also highlighted how the firm has helped farmers sell more products via its e-commerce platforms, Taobao and Tmall. It also mentioned how Tmall offered RMB 100 million (USD 15.7 million) worth of “green shopping vouchers” during this year’s Singles’ Day season to encourage shoppers to purchase items that contribute to an “eco-friendly lifestyle.”

Cainiao introduced an incentive called “package exchange for eggs,” which rewards shoppers with one egg for each cardboard box returned to the delivery station. The program mobilized more than 4.8 million shoppers to return their parcel packaging during this year’s 11-day festival, according to the company.

A Cainiao representative told KrASIA that the division is also cooperating with Tmall Supermarket—a platform that provides products such as fresh food, cosmetics, beverages, and snacks—to cut about 53,000 tons of carbon emissions in the shopping season from November 1 to 11. Cainiao utilized recycled boxes in over 30% of its deliveries during the period to reach the goal.

Alibaba’s main competitor, JD.com, also highlighted how the company is committed to reducing carbon emissions through the use of electric vehicles, solar power systems, and recyclable packages. The company also moved up the starting time of its Singles’ Day promotions from midnight to 8 p.m. the day before November 1, in a move to “take care of people’s health.”

“While the external audience may be more concerned about the sales figures, we are paying more attention to the stronger and upward force of the industry,” said Xin Lijun, CEO of JD Retail, in a press conference.

The environmental shift by China’s largest e-commerce giants might have been motivated by China’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, as announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping during the UN General Assembly in 2020.

Analysts appreciate the effort. “Brands leveraging the shopping season are in great positions to help consumers make sustainable choices and create options to match that for long-term brand value,” Mohammed Sirajuddeen, an analyst at Accenture Interactive, told KrASIA.

“Shopping festivals like Singles’ Day, with their massive discounts, are not making it easier for consumers to live out their reimagined purpose and values. Digital commerce may have created a tension between convenience and sustainability. However, it can also relieve that tension through the smart use of data, creativity, and technology,” he added.

As for the numbers, Alibaba totaled a GMV of RMB 540.3 billion (USD 84.5 billion) during the first 11 days of November, culminating the shopping fest with an 8.5% increase from last year’s RMB 498.2 billion (USD 78 billion).

This is the first year that Alibaba has failed to achieve double-digit growth year over year. In 2020, Alibaba posted a record sales figure of RMB 498.2 billion, nearly doubling 2019’s RMB 268.4 billion.

JD.com totaled instead a transaction volume of RMB 349.1 billion (USD 54.6 billion) during the Singles’ Day period, a 28% increase from the RMB 271.5 billion recorded last year.

This year, both Alibaba and JD.com did not release data about the performance of specific consumer sectors, which is regarded as a significant indicator of domestic consumer trends. This was mainly due to the enforcement of China’s Personal Information Protection Law, which prevents e-commerce merchants from sharing customer information to third-party platforms.

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