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China's 618 e-commerce sales drop for the first time in 8 years, data firm Syntun says

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  • Gross merchandise value from this year's 618 festival was 7% lower from last year, falling for the first time since 2016, according to data from Syntun.
  • It is China's second-biggest event in terms of annual sales and is seen as a barometer for household consumption.

China's annual 618 mid-year e-commerce festival saw sales drop for the first time in 8 years, according to retail data provider Syntun, signaling consumption recovery in the world's second-biggest economy was still quite slow.

The gross merchandise value (GMV) of companies, or sales, during the shopping festival fell 7% from last year to 742.8 billion yuan ($102.3 billion), according to Syntun's estimates.

It was the first time sales clocked a decline since Syntun began monitoring the event in 2016, the company told CNBC. 

The event is named after the June 18 founding date of Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com, though other companies such as Alibaba Group's Tmall and PDD Holdings' Pinduoduo also take part, offering heavy discounts and deals. 

Select Apple iPhone models were offered at discounts as high as 20% on JD.com and Tmall during this year's 618 festival. 

It is China's second-biggest event in terms of annual sales after "Singles Day" in November — both are seen as a barometer for household consumption.

Weak sales this year came despite some companies extending their 618 sales period, according to Syntun's analysis, which covered over 20 platforms. Tmall, for instance, started offering its 618 deals as early as May 20 this year, as opposed to its typical May 31 start date.

The decline in sales reflects weak consumer confidence in the largest ecommerce market in the world as the country faces several headwinds including high youth unemployment and a prolonged property crisis.

Even during Covid 19 years, 618 sales had managed to grow, according to Syntun.

The pandemic also kicked off a phenomenon of online retailers and influencers selling items via live streaming — also called "live commerce" or "livestreaming e-commerce."

Social media platforms with live-streaming helped generate a GMV of 206.8 billion yuan ($28.4 billion) during this year's 618, up from 184.4 billion yuan ($25.4 billion) in 2023, with ByteDance's Douyin raking in the highest GMV via this segment, according Syntun. 

Some traditional e-commerce platforms signaled positive results this year, despite the overall drop in GMV.

JD.com said on Wednesday its turnover and order volumes reached a new high during the festival, though it did not share sales numbers.

Meanwhile, Tmall, which ranked first in sales in Syntun's report, said as of Tuesday 365 brands on the platform had surpassed 100 million yuan (US$13.8 million) in GMV, while over 36,000 brands had doubled their GMV.

According to a note from HSBC on Thursday, the 618 event was a "mixed bag." Sales started strong in the first half of the festival based on estimates from third-party data provider Yiguan but appeared to slow in the second half of the year, based on parcel volume data, the note said.

While the Chinese economy has been facing headwinds, its retail sales beat analysts' expectations in May, climbing 3.7% from a year ago; industrial output and fixed asset investment, however, missed Reuters poll forecast.

— CNBC's Evelyn Cheng and Vivien Soo contributed to this report

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