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By Casey Hall
SHANGHAI, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Alibaba Group opted not to disclose the final sales tally of its annual Singles Day shopping festival for the first time since it started the event in 2009, saying only that results were in line with last year.
Last year's 8.5% rise in gross merchandise value (GMV) for Alibaba's platforms had been its lowest yet, following a 26% jump in 2020. Before 2020, the festival was a one-day event.
The e-commerce platform said in a press release early on Saturday that the event had "delivered results in line with last year's GMV performance despite macro challenges and COVID-related impact."
Growth has been slowing in recent editions of Singles Day - the world's biggest online shopping festival that has, despite its name, evolved into a lengthy event and become a barometer of Chinese retail demand.
Other indicators showed that Chinese consumers clutched their wallets tight this year and continued seeking relatively economical home brands over pricier expensive labels, as consumer sentiment has been hit by stringent COVID-19 curbs and a sharply slowing economy.
Singles Day growth this year had been widely predicted at flat to low single digits.
Alibaba did not respond to requests for comment on its decision to avoid releasing figures on the 11-day sales event ended that ended on Friday.
Yang Zengdong, 40, a teacher in Shanghai, said she had second thoughts about participating in Singles Day at all this year, but when the final sales period started on Thursday evening, she ended up purchasing about the same amount as last year.
"I think it's something deep in the mind of Chinese people that if you don't buy on Singles Day, you are missing out on an opportunity," she said.
Consultancy Syntun on Saturday estimated Alibaba and other Chinese e-commerce firms holding Singles Day shopping events together logged 934 billion yuan in sales, up 2.9%.
Citi analysts said this week they were conservatively forecasting Alibaba's GMV for the event to range from 545 billion yuan to 560 billion yuan ($75 billion to $77 billion), with growth of 0.9% to 3.6%.
The e-commerce giant has for over a year toned down hype around the event as Chinese President Xi Jinping increasingly emphasises "common prosperity" - a push that seeks to eliminate growing wealth inequities and clamp down on what the Communist Party sees as excessive behaviour.
Alibaba did not hold its usual celebrity-studded gala this year or any in-person media events, citing the pandemic.
The company's Tmall marketplace offered Singles Day deals on more than 17 million products, 3 million more than last year, with a record-matching 290,000 brands participating.
Alibaba did not say which brands sold well but said sales of high-tech beauty devices, such as gadgets to cool and lift facial skin, had surged some 5,570% from last year, while carpet cleaners and smart kitchen appliances had been selling extremely well.
Rival JD.com also did not publish GMV or sales growth but said Apple Inc sold over 1 billion yuan ($140 million) worth of products in the first minute of the event's final sales period on Thursday evening, which is marked by deeper discounts.
During those 10 minutes, turnover for 87 international beauty brands, including Estee Lauder, L'Oreal and L'Occitane, tripled from last year, JD.com said. ($1 = 7.1066 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Casey Hall and Sophie Yu; Editing by Brenda Goh, Edwina Gibbs, Richard Chang, Cynthia Osterman and William Mallard)