Limited impact of Hong Kong protestors boycotting Taobao’s Single’s Day: Sales break records

The biggest annual online shopping celebration was happening on November 11, by breaking last year’s record with 268.4 billion yuan in sales. Meanwhile, some young Hongkongers were threatening to boycott the significant discounts on the Taobao platform.

By real-time data, Hong Kong, the US, Taiwan, Australia and Japan were the top five overseas buyers 12 hours in.

Hong Kong version of Taobao website showing massive discounts on a variety of goods. Photo credits: Sophie Liao

The Alibaba 11.11 Sales Day was targeted by the anti-government protesters, who had used online forums to call for a massive boycott of mainland Chinese businesses, Made-in-China products and those whose owners speak up against the protests or appear to be pro-Beijing or pro-government; supporting only businesses that back their efforts.

The increasingly violent unrest, now in its sixth month, has involved protesters vandalising businesses regarded as being linked to the mainland.

“I hope through not buying Made-in-China products, I can show my stance,” said by Sung, a current HKU student.

Taobao gained popularity in Hong Kong as early as 2012. That year, it had 1.2 million registered users in the city, which has a population of 7.15 million. Some protestors believed that a vast boycotting would affect businesses and created a greater impact on current situation.

A young shopper browsing the ‘Taobao’ website, on her phone on 11th November, 2019. Photo credits: Sophie Liao

Originally, the annual 24-hour sale was mainly aiming at Taobao users with attractive steep discounts for a wide range of products, from daily supplies to electronics and even to luxury items. Now, it has become an international phenomenon involving other companies with attempting discounts on both shopping sites and physical stores. The festival was being closely watched this year as a barometer for consumer sentiment due to US-China trade war.

Mandy Ng, who monthly spent HK$1000 on Taobao during the past 2 years stopped shopping on Taobao from mid-August, as another way to confront the reality.

“I can’t change others’ minds, but at least, I want to change myself,” Ng said. “Taobao is a channel for us to clearly express our thoughts. I will continue boycotting it during this critical period.”

A snapshot of delivery workers during ‘Single’s Day’, a popular shopping holiday amongst the younger generation, in Kenndy Town, Hong Kong. Photo credits: Sophie Liao

Mainland-based economist Mei Xinyu pointed out Hong Kong shoppers make up only a tiny share of 11.11 shoppers and any boycott would have a minimal impact. “Hong Kong accounts for only a very small part of the mainland’s e-commerce market and can be ignored,” he said. Yet protest supporters say they want to register their objections to mainland-related businesses.

“I don’t think Hong Kong people would be less willing to buy Taobao due to current situation,” said Kwok, owner of the self-picked express delivery station in Kennedy Town. “Do you see all the packages here? All from Taobao within two days.”

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Kwok assumed there will be more packages coming in the next few weeks.

“Taobao is convenient and cheap. Why would people giving up the benefits and turn to buy the same products with a higher cost? Maybe the protestors will, but others, I bet they won’t.”

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