Alibaba has posted an increase in sales at its annual Singles Day shopping extravaganza, but growth slowed to its lowest rate since the festival began more than a decade ago.

The Chinese ecommerce giant said gross merchandise volume hit ¥540.3bn (£63.1bn) across the 11-day event, also known as the 11/11 Global Shopping Festival.

That total was up 8.5% compared to 2020 levels, marking the slowest rate of growth since the Singles Day event began in 2009. The 2021 edition was the first year that sales growth has not reached double digits, following a 26% surge in sales last year. 

The slowdown comes amid muted economic growth in China due to supply chain disruptions and coronavirus outbreaks, as well as the country’s crackdown on its tech industry.

State-backed newspaper Securities Daily also criticised the “worship of turnover”, adding that the Singles Day event is “unsustainable” and “linked to chaos”.

Around 290,000 brands participated in the festival this year, with more than 1.3 million new products offered by 29,000 overseas brands that participated via the company’s Tmall Global platform.

Sustainability was a central element of this year’s festival – 50,000 products with official Green Product Certification featured in a dedicated eco-friendly section of the Tmall site. The platform also highlighted that its use of renewable energy in its Zhangbei County data centre, which supports its ecommerce businesses, reduced its carbon emissions by more than 26,000 tonnes.

Alibaba said more than 1 million packages were delivered by its 350-strong fleet of Xiaomanlv driverless vehicles between November 1 and 10. This surpassed the entire volume of packages delivered by the vehicles in the year from September 2020 to September 2021. 

Alibaba vice president Yang Guang said: “This 11/11 Global Shopping Festival, we delivered steady and quality growth that is a reflection of the dynamic Chinese consumption economy. We also leveraged the power of 11/11 as a platform to fulfill our social responsibility. This year’s festival was a meaningful milestone as part of our commitment towards building a sustainable future.”

This year, 11 UK brands were chosen to launch in China during the festival following a pitch event, offering them the chance to join long-standing popular UK companies, such as Teapigs, SmoothSkin and Whittard, in the online festival.  Alibaba reported that coffee and tea brand Whittard performed just as well in the first three days of the festival as it would in a “normal” quarter.

Alibaba general manager UK, Netherlands and Nordics David Lloyd said: “Demand for products from international brands – particularly from the UK – has remained resilient in the China market and in fact grown over the course of the past year. From health and wellness to beauty, and food and beverage, Chinese consumers hold Brand Britain in extremely high regard for its quality and heritage.”

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