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Chinese smartphone brands may have fabricated orders for sales crown

Leading Chinese smartphone brands Xiaomi, Huawei, and Meizu accused each other of click farm activities during the country's major online shopping event on Wednesday.

Despite Alibaba Singles' Day sales reporting a hefty 91.2 billion yuan ($14.3 billion) in just 24 hours on Wednesday, allegations of sham transactions during the shopping festival hinted that the reality behind the historic new record may be less than glittering.

As the Alibaba-led "Singles' Day" shopping spree officially kicked off on online platforms in China at midnight on Wednesday, various brands updated their sales data publicly in a bid to showcase fanatic interest in their products.

According to a NetEase report on Thursday, at 12:06am Chinese technology firm Meizu claimed sales exceeded 100 million yuan ($15.7 million) in Alibaba's Tmall marketplace. Huawei and Xiaomi also announced sales passing the 100 million yuan mark, at 12:07am and 12:11am, respectively.

At 5am, Huawei said its sub-brand "Honor" became the first brand to achieve 600 million yuan in sales in the Tmall marketplace, while Xiaomi at 6:56pm claimed sales surpassing 1 billion yuan -- the highest sales for an online seller on Tmall.

On social media platforms, Xiaomi, Huawei, and Meizu defended the credibility of its sales data, while questioning the authenticity of that of its peers.

At around 1am on November 11, posts with screenshots were circulating on microblogging site Weibo, indicating that some buyers placed orders for hundreds of Meizu smartphones. Meizu responded by saying some buyers placed orders to resell for profit later.

As Xiaomi and Huawei chased the top position for smartphone sales, evidence emerged on Weibo that some single buyers purchased as many as 5,000 sets of Xiaomi smartphones. Xiaomi repudiated claims it had arranged such sales, suggesting they could've been an attempt by its competitor to frame the company.

Xiaomi's official Weibo account also forwarded posts accusing Huawei of being involved in click farm activities to boost sales. Huawei denied these claims and went on to accuse Xiaomi of inflating its sales with fake orders.

Citing a search index, the NetEase report indicated that Xiaomi, Huawei, and Meizu were indeed the three smartphone brands to be searched most on the internet between November 1 and November 11. All three Chinese technology firms claimed to possess solid evidence to prove their peers fabricated orders.

A Canalys report in late October indicated Huawei led smartphone shipments in the Chinese market in the third quarter, edging out Xiaomi from the top spot.

In response, Xiaomi claimed the Canalys data was misleading, having compared Xiaomi's sales volume to Huawei's total shipment, and that Xiaomi was still the number one smartphone brand in China.