While American retailers are gearing up for the one-two punch of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the biggest shopping day in China’s year has already come and gone.
With a vengeance.
Singles’ Day, an informal day of personal shopping that Alibaba has grown to a multi-billion dollar event over the last decade or so, brought in over $25 billion in merchandise sales in 24 hours. Most of those sales took place on the Taobao marketplace and Tmall brand store.
For those making comparisons, Black Friday and Cyber Monday eTailers brought in $3 billion on Black Friday and then $3.45 billion on Cyber Monday, both of which were records. To get close to Alibaba’s figures, they’d have had to double and combine, and they’d still be about $1 billion short.
That haul is a fairly impressive jump from last year’s 39 percent, which is not quite the largest jump in Alibaba’s history. That honor goes to the time period between 2013 and 2015, when Alibaba saw 60 percent year-over-year growth in the event. But considering its size and scope, the leaping and bounding numbers is remarkable in its own right.
The Show, On and Off the Stage
There is quite a bit of pageantry and presentation that goes into Singles’ Day. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are mostly all about the shopping, and the deals are fairly defuse throughout the commerce ecosystem.
And yet, Alibaba is far from the only Singles’ Day player. JD.com is actively involved and competitive (more on that in a second), but Singles’ Day is largely Alibaba’s show. Though the concept of a joke holiday for single people preexists Alibaba in China by a few years, it became the massive event it is today under now-CEO Daniel Zhang back when he was given the job of finding a way to “help single people feel less lonely.”
Today, everyone is quite adept at shopping for themselves, and the Singles’ Day event is about a lot more than just shopping.
Before the “real” Singles’ Day begins, Alibaba hosts a televised gala event counting down to the opening of the sale before midnight Nov. 11, which is described by Forbes as “the Academy Awards, a New Year’s celebration and the Super Bowl all rolled into one.”
As usual, Alibaba had a cohort of celebrities to prove it. This year, the famous faces included Nicole Kidman, Pharrell Williams and Chinese movie star Fan Bingbing, who put on an extravaganza for a cheering audience.
Jack Ma even made a surprise appearance as the “retail-tainment-in-chief.”
While consumers were being entertained, they were also shown “See Now Buy Now” fashion shows and prompted via interactive apps to download coupons, raffle tickets, gift certificates, etc.
When the clock struck 12, the shopping got underway in a big way: Around $7 billion of goods sold in the first 30 minutes alone. Alibaba went on to surpass last year’s $18 billion total after just 12 hours of sales. Mobile was also the day’s big winner, with 90 percent of sales made via mobile, up from 82 percent for 2016 and 69 percent in 2015.
The pace of sales also set off a minor spat between Alibaba and retail rival JD.com.
JD.com announced that its sales from Nov. 1 to Nov. 11 reached 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) on Saturday morning — and mildly ribbed Alibaba that it took their sales an extra hour to reach that threshold on Singles’ Day.
Apparently, that hit a bit of a sore spot, since Alibaba’s Head of Communications and Marketing, Wang Shuai, quickly pointed out that JD.com’s number was based on 11 days, while Alibaba had only counted a single day’s sales.
“JD.com is really good at math,” Shuai noted. “If [JD.com founder] Richard Liu wanted to, he could add up all the numbers for the past year to count toward Singles’ Day sales.”
Spatting aside, the total numbers on the day are a pretty compelling victory march for Alibaba. Total orders hit 812 million (a 23 percent climb), and Alipay processed 1.5 billion payment transactions (a 41 percent climb). Over 140,000 brands took part, 60,000 of which are based outside China.