Alibaba’s ‘Singles Day’ Shopping Event Marks A Decade


After starting out as an occasion celebrated by university students, China’s Alibaba helped popularize the country’s Singles Day as a retail shopping event. This year, the annual event turns 10, and the Chinese eCommerce retailer is billing this year’s ocassion as “the largest-ever in terms of scale and reach.”

In a press release, Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang noted that “the Festival’s astounding growth over the past decade has powered the steady growth of quality consumption sought by Chinese shoppers.” That is, Alibaba claimed $25.3 billion gross merchandise value (GMV) for its event last year. By contrast, Black Friday generated only roughly $5 billion in sales at that time.

Alibaba’s shopping event had humble beginnings, however: the company took in only $7.8 million in sales on the first event in 2009. Since then, the company said, the number of internet users in China has grown to 802 million. And the company reported that nearly all of those users — 98 percent — are on mobile. This year, the eCommerce retailer plans to kick off the event by offering a half a million items for preorder through Tmall. In addition, the company plans to offer coupons through Mobile Tmall and Mobile Taobao.

At the same time, the company noted that the event attracts a wide range of brands, saying 180,000 brands from China and other countries will take part in the shopping event. And 200,000 smart stores through different verticals such as apparel, home décor, and consumer goods “will help boost traffic to offline and online shopping destinations,” according to the company. Moving beyond China, Alibaba noted that Lazada will hold an 11.11 Shopping Festival for the first time across Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

The event will also feature local services: 150,000 merchant partners of Koubei, a “life search engine” that is a sub-organization of Alibaba, will aim to draw in users through “half-price discounts” on offerings such as karaoke bars and hair salons. And, in a further expansion into the world of offline retail, Alibaba’s Hema supermarket will “designate 11.11 signature stores featuring a number of promotions.” Further, the company plans to have a “See Now, Buy Now” Fashion Show from the Tmall Collection broadcast on multiple platforms to give “customers the opportunity to buy their favorite items on the spot.”

Singles Day Payments

Beyond the wide reach of Singles Day across platforms, the event has been notable in another sense: consumers have overwhelmingly turned to digital payments to pay for their purchases during the event. Last year, a whopping 90 percent of the total gross merchandise volume for the 24-hour shopping event was settled through Ant Financial’s Alipay. That figure represents an increase from the 82 percent of gross merchandise volume settled through Alipay in 2016, underscoring Chinese consumers’ growing preference for digital payments. When it comes to volumes, Alipay processed 1.48 billion total payment transactions — up 41 percent from the year before.

At the same time, the event attracts a wide range of international merchants and brands: Alibaba said 60,000 of them participated in last year’s event. And some merchants took in sizable amounts of revenues: 167 merchants each generated more than $15.1 million in sales, while 17 merchants had sales that exceeded $75.4 million and six surpassed $150.9 million in sales. The top countries selling to China during the shopping event included Japan, the U.S., Australia, Germany and South Korea. In a press release last year, Zhang said the event “represents the aspiration for quality consumption of the Chinese consumer, and it reflects how merchants and consumers alike have now fully embraced the integration of online and offline retail.”

The event, too, has set the stage for offerings from other retailers. Amazon kicked off its Prime Day in 2015 — an event that exceeded  Black Friday sales from the year before. Through its Prime Day event this year, Amazon reportedly raked in a whopping $4.2 billion from shoppers, according to one analysis, which marked an increase of 33 percent from Prime Day a year prior.

Beyond Amazon, Macy’s, Walmart and Best Buy have decided to offer their own versions of Prime Day. Wayfair, too, jumped onto the invented event bandwagon with its first “Way Day” on April 25 this year with deals similar to those offered on Black Friday — showing that any day, not just the holidays, can be an occasion (or an excuse) to shop.