Alibaba racks up $17.8 billion in Singles’ Day sales

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are right around the corner, but the world’s biggest online shopping event, Singles’ Day, occurred last Friday, November 11 in China.

This year’s Singles’ Day didn’t disappoint: the total gross merchandise volume (GMV) sold by Chinese ecommerce Alibaba retailers in 2016 jumped by nearly a third, to a stunning $17.8 billion.

For comparison, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are each expected to generate roughly $3 billion in retail sales this year, meaning that China’s 24-hour shopping extravaganza will have been responsible for approximately triple the number of sales U.S. retailers generate in their biggest 48 hour sales period.

Not by accident

The rise of Singles’ Day as the biggest online shopping event is no accident. Singles’ Day was originally started by young singles in the 1990s as a counter to Valentine’s Day. On Singles’ Day, singles have the opportunity to celebrate their singledom, and one of the ways they do that is by shopping.

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In 2009, Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba seized on the opportunity to turn Singles’ Day into a commercial bonanza. That year, the sales it produced were measured in millions of dollars. But Alibaba considered it a success and since then, has engaged in a concerted effort to market Singles’ Day.

Over time, as Singles’ Day has grown more and more popular, Alibaba’s marketing has become more and more aggressive. For example, to celebrate Singles’ Day, the company hosts a star-studded gala that is broadcast on television and live streamed over the internet.

Going global

While Singles’ Day is still widely seen as a Chinese phenomenon, that might not be the case for long if Alibaba founder Jack Ma has his way.

Alibaba says that 14,000 “international brands” now participate in Singles’ Day, ranging from Coca-Cola, which last year launched a store on Alibaba Group’s Tmall.com online marketplace and designed commemorative bottles for the event, to Macys, which used VR to give Chinese shoppers the ability to shop the retailer’s flagship New York store remotely.

Last year, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day gala was headlined by celebrities from the Asian continent, but this year, the company involved stars from around the world, including the band One Republic, Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, soccer star David Beckham and newly-retired National Basketball Association great Kobe Bryant.

At the same time, sales are also coming from overseas. In fact, according to Alibaba, shoppers from more than 200 countries participated in Singles’ Day in 2016, signalling that the event is truly going international.

While Alibaba still has a long way to go before Singles’ Day has the same mindshare as Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the world’s highest-profile consumer market, the United States, Amazon’s success with Prime Day suggests that Alibaba’s potential to turn Singles’ Day into a global phenomenon shouldn’t be underestimated.

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