A decade ago, November 11th was a tongue-in-cheek cultural “celebration” of single people in China. In 2009, retailer Alibaba turned the day into the country’s version of Black Friday — and eight years later, sales from the Chinese e-commerce’s one-day event has nearly doubled those from Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US combined.
Alibaba reported that sales from Singles’ Day amounted to $25.3 billion, a 40 percent jump from last year’s figures. (The number did not take into account some sales that began earlier in the week in honor of the event.) Additionally, the retailer hit a record $18 billion in just 13 hours on Saturday, eclipsing last year’s record of $17.8 billion in 24 hours. Market research experts say the massive growth is attributed to retailers competing for a share of consumer spending in China’s growing economy. In comparison, US sales between Thanksgiving until Cyber Monday accounted for $12.8 billion in 2016.
Just like US versions of the shopping holidays, Alibaba offered discounts on a variety of goods, from household items to electronic gadgets to clothing to beauty supplies. Quirkier items meant to nail in on the joke about the nature of Singles’ Day were heavily promoted, such as a one time payment of 11,111 yuan (roughly $1,672 USD) for a lifetime supply of baiju liquor. Revenue also came in the form of “virtual shopping cart space,” where customers can pay for expanded cart capacity. The Sixth Tone reports that Chinese retailers traditionally put a limit on how many items you can put in your online shopping cart to help “ease operations,” encouraging buyers to put in one purchase order rather than multiple transactions that require more processing.
In honor of the event, Alibaba founder Jack Ma held a gala to celebrate its kickoff, with celebrities like Pharrell, Nicole Kidman, Jessie J, and Maria Sharapova in attendance. It was televised on both Alibaba’s video service and on three Chinese TV networks. Ahead of the event, the retailer also outfitted nearly 100,000 of its Tmall stores across China with facial recognition technology to process payments.