Ma heads toward retirement with Singles’ Day record


Hong Kong • As Jack Ma prepares to step down as chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, he does so after the online sales promotion he has championed for a decade notched another record.

In its 10th iteration, the annual Singles’ Day event on Nov 11 notched 213.5 billion yuan (RM128.1 billion) in merchandise sales, an increase of 27%, according to a tally posted at the event’s media centre in Shanghai. The final number compares to 39% growth last year.

Ma will hand the chairman’s role to CEO Daniel Zhang next year, passing along one of China’s highest profile corporate roles at a time when the country is embroiled in a trade spat with the US. Concerns about the impact of those tensions on a slowing economy have contributed to a 16% slump in Alibaba’s share price this year.

“I think a lot of investors get it wrong,” vice chairman Joseph Tsai said on Sunday. “No 1, China is not as bad as people think, No 2, Alibaba has some unique aspects, we’re really riding that secular trend and when you talk about digitising the economy, Alibaba is uniquely positioned with technology and knowhow.”

Tsai, a co-founder of the company, said he has no plans to follow Ma into retirement and will continue to look after investment strategy with a team of more than 100 people.

This year’s Singles’ Day continued the trend of lavish showcases to drum up interest. The Hangzhou- based company used a televised entertainment spectacle featuring Cirque du Soleil and Mariah Carey and said some of its top-selling products came from Xiaomi Corp, Apple Inc and Dyson Ltd. Big ticket items, such as flat-screen TVs and refrigerators, showed weaker growth this year, possible reflecting the slowing Chinese property market, Tsai said.

Singles’ Day hasn’t always been about shopping and has its origins as an unofficial holiday on Chinese university campuses in the 1990s. The date, when written numerically as 11/11, looks like the Chinese expression for “bare branches”, a term to describe the unattached in a nation that emphasises relationships.

It was Ma and Zhang who latched onto the idea of turning it into a consumer event, getting a boost from China’s expanding middle class and a massive online population.

“Double 11 is really Alibaba’s test ground for testing new technologies, new tools and new methodologies,” Eric Wen, founder and CEO of Blue Lotus Capital Advisors, told Bloomberg TV.

This year’s event stood out from the nine that came before it for a few key reasons.

Ma’s announcement in September that he would step down marked it as the last with him as chairman. Another is that it comes amid the trade dispute, offering important insight into the impact on consumer spending in the world’s second-largest economy. A third factor is that Alibaba is facing some of the stiffest competition in its history.  Bloomberg