Alibaba sets new Singles’ Day sales record with more than eight hours to go in 24-hour shopping festival
The big screen shows the moment when the 2017 figure of 168.2 billion yuan was reached in the afternoon at 15:49:39. Photo: Simon Song
 
Alibaba Group surpassed last year’s Singles’ Day record with more than eight hours to go before the end of the 24-hour shopping festival, cementing its position as the world’s biggest retail event and assuaging concerns that Chinese consumer sentiment is softening.
 
The gross merchandise value surpassed last year’s tally of 168.2 billion yuan at 3:49 pm on Sunday. Also known as Double 11, the shopping extravaganza will draw to a close at midnight. Consumers spent a total of 168.5 billion yuan (US$24.3 billion) as of 3:53 pm.
 
Sales were helped by the participation of Alibaba’s Southeast Asia unit Lazada, as well as subsidiaries Ele.me, Koubei, supermarket chain Hema and other business units.
 
The total gross merchandise volume (GMV) for this year’s Singles’ Day – or the value of total transactions on the platform – is keenly watched as a barometer of consumer spending and retail health in the world’s second-biggest economy.
 
A trade war with the US has seen billions of dollars of tariffs slapped on goods, which has exacerbated a slowdown in China’s economy. Analysts expect the trade stand-off with the US to likely hit manufacturing numbers at the start of next year. A strong showing for Singles’ Day could help assuage concerns that consumer confidence has taken a big hit.
 
Within half an hour of Singles' Day, 30 brands including Nike, Uniqlo, Adidas, Procter & Gamble, Xiaomi and Apple had crossed 100 million yuan in sales. In just one second, 3,700 Singles' Day special edition MAC lipsticks were sold out.
 
Health supplements topped the list of most popular imported items purchased by consumers in China as of 12 pm, followed by milk powder, facial masks and milk powder, according to Alibaba. Skincare products were also among the most-bought items from abroad, the data showed.
 
Residents of Shanghai were the biggest spenders, followed by those in Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou.
 
Among those taking part in the shopping frenzy was Louis Barety, 28, who lives in Guangzhou.
 
"I paid a 30 yuan deposit a few days ago to pre-order a pair of Nike sneakers for 199 yuan," said the French national, who had just moved to Guangzhou from Beijing. "The usual price is 429 yuan for these shoes so this was a great deal."
 
However, Barety said that he spent the least this year during Singles' Day compared to previous years, where he bought bigger-ticket items like a television and a humidifier.
 
Singles’ Day got its name from its date, November 11. Written numerically as 11/11, the date looks like “bare branches”, a Chinese expression for the single and unattached.
 
As a kind of antidote to the societal pressures of being in a relationship, many of China’s singles began splurging on themselves on Singles’ Day, which became seen as a type of anti-Valentine’s Day. To cater to these consumers, Alibaba held its first Singles’ Day shopping event in 2009 to serve these consumers.
 
Today, Singles’ Day has expanded to become a shopping festival for everyone, and Alibaba holds an annual Double 11 star-studded gala packed with celebrities and performances to entertain its millions of users as they shop. This year, stars including Mariah Carey and performers from the Cirque du Soleil entertained in a four-hour gala televised on Alibaba’s Youku video platform and through other media partners.
 
With sales dwarfing those of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the festival has become the largest of its kind globally. In Hong Kong, many retailers are taking the opportunity to offer offline sales and discounts, including the Sogo department store and Market Place by Jasons.
 
Each year, Alibaba uses the event as a test bed for new technologies that it has been exploring, such as New Retail – the integration of online and offline commerce – as well as artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
 
Other brands and e-commerce retailers like JD.com, Mogujie and VipShop have also jumped on the bandwagon, with campaigns and promotions to entice buyers to spend on their platforms.
 

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