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 $1.5 billion in sales within 3 minutes and $25 billion in total.
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) – acts as a barometer for China’s consumer spending. Alibaba alone saw $17.7 billion of goods sold on its platform at last year’s Singles’ Day.
On the heels of a pre-Singles’ Day fashion show that Alibaba held for its Tmall platform, in which brands like Jason Wu, Robert Geller, Guerlain, Adidas, Pandora, Ray-Ban, Estee Lauder, Victoria’s Secret, Rimowa, and Ralph Lauren, took to the runway to preview items that will be available for sale on 11/11, Chinese consumers have already started eyeing up deals and filling their e-shopping carts. Logistics firms – including Cainiao Smart Logistics Network in which Alibaba holds a 51 percent stake – are gearing up for the estimated 1.5 billion parcels expected over the next six days.
“This is a big event for China, for the Chinese economy,” co-founder and Alibaba vice chairman Joseph Tsai told Reuters ahead of the sales bonanza. “On Singles’ Day, shopping is a sport, it’s entertainment.” He further stated, “There are today over 300 million middle-class consumers in China. Every year, their disposable income increases, they are demanding better quality goods and want a better standard of living. This powerful group is propelling the consumption of China."
Analysts and investors will be keeping an eye on sales, which are expected to surpass $1 billion within minutes of the start, and are set to exceed last year’s total. Spending rose by nearly a third at 2016’s sale – Alibaba’s eight Singles’ Day – but that was slower than the 60 percent increase logged in 2015.
This year’s sales growth “will likely slow to around 20 percent,” which, according to Reuters, reflects the “challenges facing China’s online retailers such as Alibaba and JD.com, which are having to spend more as they compete for shoppers in a broader economy where growth is slowing.”
Meanwhile, Alibaba does not appear to be worried. It hosted its annual pre-Single’s Day gala on Friday evening, during which co-founder and chairman Jack Ma will host guests including actress Nicole Kidman, basketball star LeBron James, and Chinese musicians and film stars, including the uber-influential Zhang Ziti, Fan Bingbing, Kris Wu and Chris Lee.