China shoppers embrace online spending spree for singletons

BEIJING - Chinese shoppers spent billions of dollars online Monday, data showed, as they took advantage of discounts offered on Singles Day, a festival created by e-tailers to persuade the loveless to console themselves with retail therapy.

November 11 - or 11.11 - was proclaimed as "singles' day", because of the number of ones in the date, with sellers promoting discounts to the nation's singletons.

"Male and female singles are no longer depressed now because all their attention is focused on the Internet to buy stuff," said one sceptical poster on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

"But afterwards they will realise their problems have not been resolved."

China has the world's biggest online population and its annual online sales are forecast to reach between US$420 billion (S$524 billion) and US$650 billion by 2020, by which time it will be the world's largest online retail market, consulting firm McKinsey estimates.

Sales on Tmall, the business-to-consumer platform of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, hit 19.1 billion yuan (S$3.9 billion) by 1pm on Monday, figures from the company showed.

That was around six times the combined average daily turnover on both Tmall and Taobao, Alibaba's consumer-to-consumer arm, last year, according to Chinese media reports.

The US$3.1 billion figure was the same as the total for the whole day in 2012, Alibaba said in a statement.

Chinese bricks and mortar retailers are also trying to cash in on the spending spree this year, with department stores and supermarkets offering special prices at the weekend, Chinese media reports said.

But there were doubts over the size of the event's heavily-advertised discounts, with consumer research groups saying retailers quietly raise prices before announcing a dramatic markdown, the state-run Global Times said Monday.

By the end of 2012, China had 242 million online shoppers, up 24.8 per cent in a year. They spent nearly 1.26 trillion yuan in 2012, up 66.5 per cent from 2011, the semi-official China Internet Network Information Centre said in an April report.