China may not celebrate Thanksgiving, but that didn’t stop adventurous Chinese consumers from going online this year to join the three-day sales frenzy surrounding the U.S. holiday, according to Alipay, China’s largest e-payments provider.
Alipay, which has been partnering with U.S. retailers to allow consumers in China to use renminbi to purchase products directly from American online shops, said that from Nov. 28 to Nov. 30, its cross-border transactions increased by nearly 200 percent compared with the same three-day period last year. The number of Chinese cross-border shoppers more than tripled.
Thanksgiving, which fell on Nov. 27 this year, followed by Black Friday and the holiday weekend traditionally mark the start of Christmas shopping in the U.S., when retailers use steep discounts to lure shoppers to their virtual and physical stores. This year, four major U.S. department stores—Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s—participated with Alipay in online sales for Chinese consumers during the period.
The retailers offered discounts of up to 40 percent on some merchandise, while Alipay issued to users discount e-coupons totaling RMB 60 million in value that could be used to save up to 66 percent on items during Black Friday sales. Some U.S. merchants saw their volume of orders from China received on Nov. 28 grow 100 times compared with daily volumes in days immediately preceding Black Friday, Alipay said.
Top selling merchandise included items in the women’s wear and fashion accessories, baby products and cosmetics categories, which together accounted for 80 percent of total sales in the period, according to the company. An affiliate of NYSE-listed Alibaba Group, Alipay did not disclose the total dollar value of settlements surrounding Black Friday, nor did it break out how much of the cross-border trade was attributable to U.S. merchants holding online Black Friday sales.
Cross-border e-commerce is just a fraction of Chinese consumer spending, but the practice is growing fast as an increasing number of consumers seek premium goods from abroad. According to a story in Internet Retailer, Chinese consumers spent 600 billion yuan ($96.8 billion) to directly buy foreign-made goods in 2013, either online or by traveling abroad. That was twice as much as Chinese shoppers bought in these ways from other countries in 2011.
Alipay has been trying to drive overseas e-commerce by encouraging U.S. and European retailers to adopt Alipay as a payment option for their e-commerce sites.
The company recently announced a cross-border solution called ePass that combines Alipay’s foreign currency settlement service with a direct-to-China delivery service so that Western merchants are able to offer Chinese consumers who are comfortable shopping online in English a way to purchase goods from retailers’ existing, stand-alone e-commerce websites in their home markets. Companies participating in the launch of ePass included Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Ann Taylor and Aeropostale.
Alizila reporter Susan Wang contributed to this report.