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By Josh Horwitz
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd will kick off its mega-shopping extravaganza "Singles Day" early this year, a move that will likely see a big jump in its sales as the easing of the country's COVID-19 pandemic drives an economic rebound.
The tech giant will offer two check out periods - a new one from Nov. 1-3 and its traditional 24-hour shopping window on Nov. 11. It says it will introduce more than 2 million new products, double the amount last year.
This year's blitz is being watched as a barometer for how strong consumer appetite is rebounding in China, amid signs that a recovery in household spending has started broadening.
Other tech players, like Douyin, the Chinese version of ByteDance's TikTok, JD.com and Pinduoduo are rolling out their own campaigns, some larger than others.
Alibaba turned China’s informal Singles’ Day into a one-day shopping event in 2009 and has made it the world's biggest online sales fest, dwarfing Cyber Monday in the United States. Last year, it recorded $38.4 billion in sales on the day.
"The longer 11-11 lasts, the more opportunity they have to make money," said Sam Coopersmith, partner at Full Jet, a Shanghai-based e-commerce consultancy.
But Lu Zhenwang, an independent e-commerce expert and chief executive officer of Shanghai-based Wanqing Consultancy, says he expects Alibaba's gross merchandise value (GMV) growth to be modest, at around 10-20% compared to last year, noting many consumers' incomes were hurt by the pandemic.
Alibaba Chief Marketing officer Chris Tung told reporters on Thursday he expects the pandemic to drive purchases of luxury goods in particular, as global travel bans prevent Chinese consumers from shopping overseas.
The company's Cainiao logistics division is expecting package shipments to increase 30% from last year, when the company sent out 1.3 billion on Nov. 11 and the week after, said the unit's senior director James Zhao.
In the eastern city of Wuxi, one of Cainiao's warehouses has added between 200 and 300 robots, along with more dormitories and dining rooms to accommodate extra staff, said Tu Ping, the facility's general manager.
JD.com, Alibaba's chief rival, will begin its 11-day festival on Nov. 1, which it has done for the past few years. The company said it will offer a total of 10 billion yuan ($1.49 billion) in discounts to consumers this year
Douyin will hold its own Singles Day activities for the first time this year as it tries to build up its e-commerce offering. Last year the popular short video app partnered with Alibaba to power its livestreaming services, but plans to direct its users to its own internal e-commerce stores this year.
($1 = 6.7029 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Additional Reporting by Sophie Yu in Beijing; Editing by Kim Coghill)