China warns online retailers against dodgy Singles' Day sales tactics

Alibaba's employees in China's Zhejiang province drying quilts for their company staff to use as they rest, in preparation for tomorrow's Singles' Day global shopping festival. Sales on Nov 11 - the "double elevens" - are supposedly watched as a baro
Alibaba's employees in China's Zhejiang province drying quilts for their company staff to use as they rest, in preparation for tomorrow's Singles' Day global shopping festival. Sales on Nov 11 - the "double elevens" - are supposedly watched as a barometer for the e-commerce industry and consumer economy in China as a whole.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • Chinese regulators have warned leading online retailers against dodgy sales tactics, and said they would be working tomorrow to tackle any abuses by merchants on Singles' Day, China's festival of consumption and the biggest online shopping day worldwide.

Every Nov 11 - Singles' Day is named after the "double elevens" (11-11) celebrating single life - Chinese consumers go online in droves to buy sale-priced merchandise on e-commerce sites such as Alibaba and JD.com.

Stakes are high on the day, watched as a barometer for the e-commerce industry and consumer economy in China as a whole, Financial Times reported.

The event was launched seven years ago by online retail giant Alibaba to celebrate singledom, with participants encouraged to buy something for themselves.

Singles' Day has since surpassed the combined sales of the equivalent events in the US: Cyber Monday and Black Friday, and billions of dollars of goods are sold online at steep discounts.

Alibaba's transactions alone exceeded US$14 billion (S$19 billion) last year and are expected to grow this year. But Chinese shoppers have accused merchants of abuses in previous years, including having "fake discounts", in which sellers raise the prices of goods weeks before Nov 11, then lower them dramatically on that day itself.

In a statement posted on its website last Tuesday, The State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) said it met Alibaba, JD.com, Amazon.com, Baidu, Tencent Holdings and several others and warned them against selling fakes, falsifying sales figures and engaging in other fraudulent practices, Forbes has reported.

"The SAIC will strengthen market supervision… monitor and manage online marketplaces according to law, and together with the majority of industry players jointly create an online market environment of fair competition and an environment for online consumption that is safe and secure," it said.

There is added focus on Alibaba this year, amid a probe by the US Securities and Exchange Commission about the large unaudited sales numbers the e-commerce giant publishes on every Singles' Day.

An Alibaba spokesman said: "We are the industry leader in combating unfair and illicit practices; we never tolerate malpractices by merchants on our marketplaces."

A JD.com spokesman said: "Our commitment to quality products and service has always been a key differentiator for us in this market and we employ additional resources for major sales to keep that promise during the busiest periods."

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a government agency in charge of economic planning, is also policing the Singles' Day event. Last month, it said it would focus on combating fake reviews.

"At the time of this year's Singles' Day sale, the emphasis on the issues of business integrity… is a great opportunity to defend consumer rights and also a reminder to merchants," China Reform Daily, the NDRC's official newspaper, told a press conference.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'China warns online retailers against dodgy Singles' Day sales tactics'. Print Edition | Subscribe