China’s $2.4 trillion shopping festival is more competitive than ever

Government scrutiny of "pick one from two" exclusivity deals has left 618 sellers free to list goods on multiple marketplaces.

The 618 shopping event takes over Chinese ecommerce starting in late May.

The 618 shopping event takes over Chinese ecommerce starting in late May.

Photo: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg via Getty Images

China's mid-year ecommerce extravaganza known as 618 reaches its peak on Friday. Last year's event, which hauled in an estimated $2.4 trillion in consumer spending, signaled the economy's rebound from the coronavirus. This year's shopping spree is weighed down by a different concern: Beijing's antitrust crackdown on the country's internet giants.

Shoppers are more likely to find the same goods promoted across the biggest online superstores this year. That's because the longstanding practice of demanding exclusivity — known as "pick one from two" (二选一) in China — is under fire.

618 isn't even the largest shopping event in China — that's Nov. 11's Singles Day. But in 2019, 618 became a flashpoint for large marketplaces' exclusivity demands. Guangdong-based home appliance company Galanz took to Weibo to air its grievances: Alibaba's Tmall had removed its promotional banner after the company announced a partnership with Alibaba competitor Pinduoduo. Galanz noted a significant drop in traffic to its store, with searches for the brand name yielding no results on Tmall. The reason? The company said Tmall had asked Galanz to enter a "pick one from two" agreement in early 2019, and Galanz had refused. Galanz sued Tmall in November 2019 for "abusing its dominant market position," but later dropped the case.

This year looks different: Galanz, among many other brands, is promoting 618 across platforms, including, Tmall and Pinduoduo.

The exclusivity deals involved carrots and sticks. Marketplaces offered subsidies to boost discounts and promised traffic to brands' hot offers. But they also blocked stores and restricted traffic to sellers who didn't play ball. That's all changing: With China cracking down on its domestic Big Tech giants, no one wants to get caught looking like a monopoly.

In early February, the State Council, China's cabinet, finalized antitrust guidelines for "the platform economy," updating their rules for the modern internet age. New guidelines state that if a marketplace "abuses its dominant market position" by requiring brands to exclusively sell products there, that behavior may break the law. Last December, the State Administration for Market Regulation launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba, China's largest ecommerce player, for its practice of preventing vendors from selling on other marketplaces. Alibaba was fined a record $2.8 billion in April.

As a result, "this year's ecommerce environment is more friendly," Wang Juntao, founder of TNO Water Drop Tea, told the Economic Observer, a Chinese financial publication. "This might be the biggest difference of this year's 618."

It doesn't hurt that this year's 618 extravaganza has been stretched into a near-monthlong affair — not unlike in America, where retailers start Black Friday discounts well before Thanksgiving. Presales began as early as May 24 on and Taobao. And the festival ends on June 20.

New entrants

What's also different about this year's midyear shopping event — a shopping bonanza invented in 2010 as an anniversary promotion — is two new entrants vying for consumers' wallets. Sensational short-video services Douyin and Kuaishou, which entered the ecommerce arena with space guns blazing not long ago, made their 618 debuts only last year. Douyin and Kuaishou now are the fourth and sixth largest ecommerce marketplaces in China by gross merchandise value, respectively.

According to a pre-618 survey conducted by the ecommerce-focused publication Ebrun, more than half of the surveyed brands said they would increase their marketing budget for 618 on Douyin. And over 22% said they would increase their promotional spending on Kuaishou. That's the biggest change consumers will see from the antitrust pressure on dominant marketplaces: It may become easier for new entrants to woo brands if sellers don't have to worry about getting punished for a lack of "pick one from two" exclusivity.

Still, size matters. Despite Alibaba's antitrust woes and the rise of social commerce, sellers still put their largest stock on Tmall. Two-thirds of the surveyed businesses considered Tmall their main 618 battleground. And 40% of them expected more than half of their 618 sales would come from Tmall.

During last year's 618 shopping event, total transactions across platforms reached $2.4 trillion, up 42% from 2019, according to Chinese online payment clearing house NetsUnion Clearing Corporation. If pre-618 sales numbers are any indication, this year's total turnover will likely smash records: Alibaba claimed that sales turnover on Taobao generated through livestreaming during the first hour of June 1 was higher than last year's daily average. And on the same day, claimed that over 4,800 brands saw their sales increase more than fivefold year-over-year.


2- and 3-wheelers dominate oil displacement by EVs

Increasingly widespread EV adoption is starting to displace the use of oil, but there's still a lot of work to do.

More electric mopeds on the road could be an oil demand game-changer.

Photo: Humphrey Muleba/Unsplash

Electric vehicles are starting to make a serious dent in oil use.

Last year, EVs displaced roughly 1.5 million barrels per day, according to a new analysis from BloombergNEF. That is more than double the share EVs displaced in 2015. The majority of the displacement is coming from an unlikely source.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (

Sponsored Content

Foursquare data story: leveraging location data for site selection

We take a closer look at points of interest and foot traffic patterns to demonstrate how location data can be leveraged to inform better site selecti­on strategies.

Imagine: You’re the leader of a real estate team at a restaurant brand looking to open a new location in Manhattan. You have two options you’re evaluating: one site in SoHo, and another site in the Flatiron neighborhood. Which do you choose?

Keep Reading Show less

The limits of AI and automation for digital accessibility

AI and automated software that promises to make the web more accessible abounds, but people with disabilities and those who regularly test for digital accessibility problems say it can only go so far.

The everyday obstacles blocking people with disabilities from a satisfying digital experience are immense.

Image: alexsl/Getty Images

“It’s a lot to listen to a robot all day long,” said Tina Pinedo, communications director at Disability Rights Oregon, a group that works to promote and defend the rights of people with disabilities.

But listening to a machine is exactly what many people with visual impairments do while using screen reading tools to accomplish everyday online tasks such as paying bills or ordering groceries from an ecommerce site.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.


The crypto crash's violence shocked Circle's CEO

Jeremy Allaire remains upbeat about stablecoins despite the UST wipeout, he told Protocol in an interview.

Allaire said what really caught him by surprise was “how fast the death spiral happened and how violent of a value destruction it was.”

Photo: Heidi Gutman/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire said he saw the UST meltdown coming about six months ago, long before the stablecoin crash rocked the crypto world.

“This was a house of cards,” he told Protocol. “It was very clear that it was unsustainable and that there would be a very high risk of a death spiral.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

A DTC baby formula startup is caught in the center of a supply chain crisis

After weeks of “unprecedented growth,” Bobbie co-founder Laura Modi made a hard decision: to not accept any more new customers.

Parents unable to track down formula in stores have been turning to Facebook groups, homemade formula recipes and Bobbie, a 4-year-old subscription baby formula company.

Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The ongoing baby formula shortage has taken a toll on parents throughout the U.S. Laura Modi, co-founder of formula startup Bobbie, said she’s been “wearing the hat of a mom way more than that of a CEO” in recent weeks.

“It's scary to be a parent right now, with the uncertainty of knowing you can’t find your formula,” Modi told Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Latest Stories