More than a week before Nov. 11, the date of China's annual shopping bonanza, Peking University student Zhang Weijia added several items to his cart on Tmall, Alibaba's online marketplace, and could barely wait to place his orders with deep discounts exclusively released on Sunday, known as Singles Day or Double Eleven.
Zhang is among millions of people who are encouraged by online and offline retailers to take advantage of the cheaper prices to celebrate the festival. Nov. 11 is also called Singles Day because the date, 11-11, resembles four "bare sticks," a term used in China to refer to bachelors.
Alibaba turned Nov. 11 into a shopping bonanza in 2009. Since then, the festival has become a nationwide sales holiday. This year, Singles Day sales on Tmall hit 10 billion yuan (about 1.44 billion U.S. dollars) at just two minutes and five seconds after midnight on Nov. 11, according to Alibaba.
In the past nine years, Singles Day has become a landmark in China's online shopping. In 2009, only 27 brands joined Tmall's shopping spree, while the number surged to over 190,000 with the participation of 75 countries and regions this year. Meanwhile, nearly all the e-commerce platforms in China have come to join the annual online shopping gala.
It is estimated that the online sales number will surpass 500 billion yuan (nearly 72 billion U.S. dollars) by the end of this year, followed by years of exponential growth. The surging number of China's Singles Day mirrors people's upgrading of their consumption and the huge consumption potential in years to come.
According to China's Ministry of Commerce, the retail sales of consumer goods in China reached 32 trillion yuan in the first three quarters of 2018, a year-on-year increase of 9.3 percent. The total consumer spending contributed 78 percent to GDP expansion in the first nine months, up 14 percentage points from a year earlier.
"China has a strong consumer demand, however, needs are also changing with technological progress," said Wang Baohua, a professor with the Communication University of China. "Ten years ago, people used to pay by cash, but now online shopping and mobile payment have become inevitable parts of our daily life. Our consumption habits have been greatly transformed by the Internet."
"Such transformations cannot be achieved without the convenient delivery service and people's growing awareness that time costs," said Wang.
"My busy schedule makes it impossible for me to shop during weekdays," said Huang Zhaoxian who works at a bank in Ji'nan, east China's Shandong Province. "Instead, it only takes me a few minutes to buy daily necessities such as fruits, electronic products or even furniture via the internet, and there are more choices online."
Albeit lower-price competition still prevails in China's online market, statistics show that Chinese consumers pay close attention to the quality of products when placing orders. A survey of 4,000 NetEase users showed that 34 percent only buy high-quality products while 66 percent consider price only after quality.
Driven by such consumer demand, China's e-commerce companies are also shifting their business priorities. JD.com, China's second-largest e-commerce giant, changed its previous slogan of "buying cheaper products with faster delivery" to "choosing high-quality consumption." Some cross-border e-commerce players also attract consumers to buy imported products.
"Chinese consumers now put more emphasis on the quality and service of products rather than the price alone," said Cao. "It shows people's upgrading of consumption and leads to the overall improvement of e-commerce industry in China."