China’s online retail giant Alibaba says it has seen nearly $7bn (£4.4bn) of sales so far from its annual ‘Singles’ Day’ shopping event.
Seventeen hours in, the firm said sales had already hit $6.96bn, with industry analysts predicting that sales could surpass $8bn this year.
Last year, Alibaba recorded sales of $5.75bn and shipped more than 150 million packages.
Singles’ Day is considered the world’s biggest online retail sales day.
It compares with “Cyber Monday” in the US, the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is also marketed as a big online shopping day.
Alibaba said it expected to break sales records during the annual event, offering big discounts to boost sales.
“I bet the number [of goods bought] is going to be scary,” said Alibaba’s executive chairman Jack Ma last week. He estimated that 200 million packages would be shipped from orders made during the day.
The company says it sold $2bn (£1.2bn) of goods in the first hour.
When did an obscure holiday devoted to single people, a kind of anti-Valentine’s Day, become China’s biggest shopping day of the year? Many in China find the transition baffling.
“November 11 used to be ‘Singles’ Day’. Then it became the Shopping Day, and now it’s Couples’ Shopping Day,” complains one user on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “Looking across the globe and over the years, there’s never really been a day dedicated to single people.”
Others point out that China’s biggest online shopping platform, Alibaba, engineered the change.
Alibaba trademarked the term “Double-11”, a popular term describing the November 11th holiday, in 2012.
The website earns a significant chunk of its profits on that day.
“They say behind every successful man, there’s a woman quietly supporting him. Behind Jack Ma, [Alibaba’s founder], there’re tens of millions of female shopaholics,” jokes one Weibo user.
Frustration lingered in the background of many Weibo forums.
Shoppers complained the online deals were too good, tempting them to spend money they didn’t have.
“Please Singles’ Day, can you pass by quickly?,” reads a typical comment. “I didn’t think I needed anything until today when I feel like I need everything I see. I’m so helpless!”
Asia Business Report speaks to AT Kearney analyst Goh Mui Fong about the rise in Chinese e-commerce.
Singles’ Day in China was adopted by Alibaba in 2009 to boost sales, but dates back to at least 1993, when students at Nanjing University are believed to have chosen the date as an anti-Valentine’s Day where single people could buy things for themselves.
Since then, it has gone on to become a massive day of sales for China’s fast growing e-commerce market.
The market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 25% over the next few years, from $390bn in 2014 to $718bn in 2017, according to a recent study released by management consulting firm AT Kearney.
This year’s Singles’ Day online sales event has attracted the participation of more than 27,000 global brands, including Japanese label Muji, Spanish clothing retailer Desigual and American outdoor clothing label The North Face.
“Lots of clients from the brands side have for the first time, approached the Singles’ Day as an event on its own, and earmarked it as a significant retail operation, as major as Christmas and the Chinese New Year,” said Shaun Rein from China Market Research in Shanghai.
However, despite Alibaba’s recent successful share sale and the strong performance of this year’s Singles’ Day, Mr Rein says Alibaba still faces challenges.
He notes that while 35% of e-commerce transactions in China come from mobile devices, Alibaba is lagging slightly behind, with 31% of its sales generated from mobiles.