November 11th is Singles’ Day in China. The holiday – which was first celebrated in the 1990’s by young, single Chinese as a type of anti-Valentine's Day – was co-opted by e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2009, as a means of boosting revenue in the traditionally quiet sales period before the Lunar New Year season. It is now the world’s biggest shopping spree, with millions of shoppers eager to snap up cut-price deals.
This year, the e-commerce giant brought in a total of $30.8 billion in sales, up from 2017’s $25.3 billion. Of this year’s revenues, $1 billion cane within the first 1 minute and 25 seconds. Alibaba saw $10 billion in sales within 1 hour and 48 seconds, reaching the $10 billion milestone more than 5 minutes faster than last year.
Spearheaded by Alibaba, the annual November 11 event – a 24-hour extravaganza that significantly outsells the U.S. Black Friday sales (in 2016, Alibaba's total Singles' Day sales topped $17.8 billion, while Amazon brought in $3.34 billion on Black Friday) – enables consumers in China and beyond to access discounted products on Alibaba’s portfolio of online sales platforms, including its Taobao marketplace, Tmall platform (which hosts its Luxury Pavilion), Lazada in Southeast Asia and India’s Paytm.
TechCrunch noted this week that the one-say sale “covers obvious goods like smartphones, TVs and other big-ticket consumer items, but also fashion, clothing, furniture, health products and more. The less expected items that sell well include cleaning products, toilet paper and daily perishables.” And not to be overlooked? “A strong demand for cars, among other things.”
Beyond merely serving as a revenue-booster for Alibaba, Singles Day acts as a barometer for China’s consumer spending more generally. Alibaba alone saw $25 billion worth of goods sold on its platform at last year’s Singles’ Day, handling a total of nearly 1.5 billion transactions - 325,000 per second at its peak - with more than 775 million parcels shipped from orders generated in that 24-hour period. Of those orders, Alibaba’s payment processing service, Alipay, was tied to the vast majority.
According to CNBC, the shopping day – which Alibaba pairs with live streaming events with celebrities and fashion shows in an attempt to appeal to China’s vast mobile-first market – comes amidst “falling stock markets in China and a difficult trade environment with the U.S., which could hurt the Chinese consumer.”
Alibaba has not been immune to such conditions. Early this month, the Chinese e-commerce, logistics, and payment processing giant, which was founded by Jack Ma in the spring of 1999, revealed its second quarter revenues of $12.4 billion fell short of market expectations. Despite boasting revenue that is still growing at a rate of 54 percent year-over-year, Alibaba has cut its revenue forecast for the 2019 fiscal year due to “fluid macroeconomic conditions.”