Singles’ Day Swings For The Fences

At the halfway mark yesterday (Nov. 10), it was getting clear that Singles’ Day was going to have another very good year. Around 12 hours into the event, Alibaba had wracked up a reported $12 billion in sales across its platform of gross merchandise, and Alibaba Group President Michael Evans was confident Singles’ Day was “in a good place.”

“Back in 2013, $5.14 billion was our one-day GMV. Now, we can achieve it in one hour,” Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang told the company’s live blog.

The by-the-hour numbers are impressive, but the by-the-minute scores are equally eye-popping. According to Zhang, the first hour of Singles’ Day had orders pouring in — 175,000 per second.

Singles’ Day is, at this point, the single highest spending day on the eCommerce calendar. Analysts estimate that Alibaba’s international day dedicated to the principles of “treat yourself” have it bringing in $20 billion in 2016. For those keeping score at home, that easily trounces the ~$6 billion–$7 billion the combined holidays of Black Friday and Cyber Monday are projected to pick up collectively.

As it turns out, there is a thrill to celebrating an anti-Valentine’s Day and buying gifts for oneself, as opposed to that special someone (or Christmas, when one buys things for that special someone and then everyone else they know). Singles’ Day is not itself Alibaba’s invention. It was instead a trend embraced by young, single Chinese consumers during the mid-90s.

Alibaba, however, saw an opportunity in the making and, in 2009, launched Singles’ Day as an eCommerce holiday and opened up its platform for discounts and displaying wares. China’s big shopping season usually falls in step with Lunar New Year, and so, early November has previously been a quiet shopping time period.

Now, eight years in, Singles’ Day has grown up pretty notably from its status as “made-up holiday” to become an international sensation as brands have rushed to follow the big one-day bounce in consumer spending.

In 2016, 14,000 brands signed on and racked up around 30 percent of total GMV halfway into the event, according to Alibaba stats. Apple, Nike and Siemens were among the top sellers with Chinese consumers in the early hours of the day. Local Chinese brands that made a strong showing were appliance manufacturers Haier and Midea, and smartphone maker Meizu also made a strong showing.

The event was also truly global, according to that internal data, with orders coming in from 207 nations. That effort was aided by a celebrity-rich gala event full of faces familiar to both Chinese and Western audiences. Kobe Bryant, David and Victoria Beckham and OneRepublic were all featured (though, tragically, Katy Perry had to drop out at the last minute).

And Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group, managed to defend his title as the planet’s quirkiest CEO by actually performing a live magic trick.

Duncan Clark, chairman and MD of the business advisory BDA China, noted the gala was a clever merging of Alibaba’s focuses on entertainment and shopping.

“In China, shopping is entertainment,” Clark said. “A lot of people [in inland cities] are tuning in to live broadcasts for products. Hundreds of thousands of people follow internet celebrities who use these platforms to sell.”

Clark noted that ensuring some spotlight hit its non-eCommerce arms was an opportunity for Alibaba to guarantee it could ride out any slowing of interest in Singles’ Day itself.

“Jack Ma likes to say that they’re no longer an eCommerce company. They’re sort of transcending that,” he said. “It’s about data, it’s about finance, it’s about media.”