Asian online retail hub Alibaba is set to launch its annual Singles’ Day event on Monday, October 31st, with a surprisingly big twist. For the first time since the event was originally staged, the launch event will not be hosted by the brand’s two biggest sales stars.

In the past, Alibaba’s pre-sale events were hosted by the king and queen of China’s livestreaming sales scene, Austin Li Jiaqi and Viya. Between them, they have sold various products on the company’s Taobao Live retail livestreaming channel.

For 2021, the pair sold a total of $2.61 billion in products on opening day, around 3.5% of total event sales, which hit $74.21 billion when it ended two weeks later.

It’s another blow to Alibaba, which significantly toned down its promotional initiatives for Singles’ Day last year due to regulatory scrutiny. Indeed, the company has recorded its slowest sales growth yet at 8.5%, further compounded by a slowing economy and the country’s stifling zero-COVID policy which has stunted economic growth throughout China.

Likewise, the rise of ByteDance’s Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, has shifted the focus of retail livestreamers away from Taobao Live, thus decreasing the total traffic and sales that it receives daily.

What’s Going On Here?

A recent crackdown by government censors against online content, as well as the involvement of a number of Chinese celebrities in tax-related cases, has dampened the public’s enthusiasm for the event.

While Alibaba’s marketing team has neither confirmed nor denied Li’s appearance at the launch on Monday, he was conspicuously absent from the Singles’ Day pre-sale marketing campaign this year. This, in turn, fueled speculation online that the livestreaming star met the ire of government censors. He was forced to stay offline for the better part of three months.

While Li returned to livestreaming last month, avid fans noted that his presence seemed subdued, even low-key, compared to his high-octane performances before his disappearance. His minders have also told the media that he feels cosmetics and skin care products – many of which he has endorsed in the past – will only make up 30% of his Singles’ Day inventory compared to 40% last year. They added that more necessary items and locally-produced products would make up the bulk of Li’s featured items list.

Viya, on the other hand, has stayed offline since she was charged with tax evasion in December of last year and made to pay a steep fine.