18th Party Congress

Chinese shoppers buy as leaders shuffle through reshuffle

Buyers head for cyberspace as delegates sweep vendors off the streets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 3:58am

Who will be among the next generation of leaders? This was the question dominating talk inside the People's Great Hall yesterday.

But outside on the street you were more likely to hear Beijingers ask each other: "Where did you shop on 'double 11' day'?"

The mainland's three-year-old online shopping holiday - based on America's "cyber Monday" - received an unexpected boost from the 18th party congress as people went online on Sunday to escape the nonstop focus on the Communist Party's insular reshuffle.

The flight to online shopping sites has been particularly strong in the capital, where a series of policies enacted to make the city appear orderly throughout the politically sensitive event has discouraged people from straying far from home.

In recent weeks, Beijing municipal authorities have swept vendors from the streets, clamped down on unlicensed motorcycle taxis and enacted traffic controls to ensure easy passage for top officials' motorcades.

"Newspapers and TV screens are preoccupied with political news focused on the congress, which bores me to death," said Zheng Dan, an accountant with a multinational company.

"I used to find fun in bargaining with street vendors," he said. "But they disappeared from streets these days because of the congress. So I turned to online shops to look for attractive discounts.

The party congress shopping spree has provided a welcome, if unintentional, boost to the Communist Party's efforts to lift domestic consumption - even if discounts were basically no more attractive than last year.

Sales made through Alibaba's online payment platform by customers from its Taobao and Tmall websites on Sunday hit a record 19.1 billion yuan (HK$23.5 billion), more than triple last year's amount, according to Alibaba Group, the country's second-largest internet company by revenue.

Transactions through the website of home appliance retailer Suning were also expected to surge yesterday after orders reached 1.5 million in the previous two days, 20 times its "double 11" sales last year.

The online shopping surge led Alibaba, which created the "double 11 day" in 2009, to triumphantly declare that the holiday had surpassed "cyber Monday" to become the "world's biggest" online shopping event. The US holiday generated US$1.25 billion last year, or 7.86 billion yuan.

China's economy has slowed for seven quarters. The gross domestic product expanded 7.7 per cent in the first nine months of the year, with third-quarter GDP growth hitting a 14-quarter-low of 7.4 per cent.

With exports slowing as a result of the global financial crisis and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe dragging on, China has been trying to focus more on domestic consumption.

It seems the online shoppers are heeding the report delivered by general secretary Hu Jintao at last week's opening of the congress, when he said China should "firmly maintain the strategic focus of boosting domestic demand". He also said the country should "unleash the potential of individual consumption" and "expand the domestic market".