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Alibaba extends Singles Day into services to fend off rivals

Luxury brands and imported goods also added to flagship annual sale

Alibaba's 2019 Global Shopping Festival generated 268.4 billion yuan ($40.1 billion) in total transactions.    © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Street stalls, beauty salons, restaurants and some 2 million other service businesses in China are expected to offer deep discounts alongside goods sellers during Alibaba Group Holding's flagship Singles Day promotional sale this year as the company fends off heightened competition from rivals JD.com and Pinduoduo.

While Nov. 11 remains the nexus of the sale, also branded by Alibaba as the "11.11 Global Shopping Festival," this year's event will also include a Nov. 1-3 window focused on new brands and small businesses.

"Through our expansion from 'single' to 'double,' 11.11 will be offering more opportunities for merchants both online and offline to engage with consumers as well as provide a better consumer experience overall," said Jiang Fan, president of Alibaba's Taobao and Tmall platforms, in a company statement on Tuesday.

In addition to Alibaba's two core shopping services, this year's event will also rope in other company platforms, including financial services provider Alipay, on-demand food-delivery service Ele.me, travel booking site Fliggy and ticketing platforms Taopiaopiao and Damai.

The expanded Singles Day is expected to boost Alibaba's overall transaction volume for its signature sales event. Last year's event generated 268.4 billion yuan ($40.1 billion), a larger sum than the combined total of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in the U.S. 

Alibaba earns revenue from the sale primarily by charging vendors marketing and advertising fees to promote their products.

The move to expand beyond Tmall and Taobao is expected to help Alibaba fend off JD.com and Pinduoduo, which still rely primarily on sales of physical goods for revenue. JD.com also features promotions around Singles Day.

The event's transaction total will also offer a gauge of the state of China's consumption recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. While many consumers bought more daily necessaries and groceries online during China's COVID-19 lockdown, sales of big-ticket items slumped.

National retail sales rose 3.3% in September from a year earlier, the fastest growth so far this year, while gross domestic product for the third quarter grew 4.9% from a year earlier.

Alibaba expects 800 million people to make purchases on its platforms during the promotion, with more than 250,000 vendors participating.

Luxury goods companies, which traditionally have been skeptical about selling online, are showing more interest this year with Chinese citizens restricted from traveling overseas due to the pandemic. Top brands including Prada, Cartier, Montblanc, Piaget, Balenciaga, Vacheron Constantin and Chloe will join Singles Day for the first time.

To further address demand for foreign products, Tmall Global will feature 2,600 new brands in this year's festival and cross-border e-commerce platform Kaola will participate for the first time, with offers on products from 89 overseas markets.

"With the world facing unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic this year, China has been among the first economies to recover. Many global businesses and brands are looking to the Chinese market for growth," Alibaba said in a statement.

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