Earning more than $25.3 billion in sales in just one day is a whole lot of money. Could you try to imagine how many companies combined needed to reach that kind of amount?
If you needed evidence that internet shopping still has room to grow, you just got it. Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba has confirmed that its annual Singles’ Day sales event racked up the equivalent of more than $25.3 billion in sales, easily setting a record for the most online purchases in one day. For context, Alibaba sold just short of $18 billion last year — this year, the company surpassed that figure slightly past the halfway mark. The 2016 Cyber Monday sale was downright tiny by comparison, mustering ‘just’ $3.45 billion in the US.
Once a celebration for China’s lonely hearts, Singles’ Day has become an annual 24-hour buying frenzy that exceeds the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, and acts as a barometer for China’s consumers.
As tills shut midnight on Saturday, Alibaba’s live sales ticker registered 168.3 billion yuan, up 39 percent from 120.7 billion yuan last year. The dollar figure was up more steeply due to the strength of the yuan against the greenback this year.
The event began soon after a star-studded event in Shanghai late on Friday. As midnight hit, a deluge of pre-orders helped drive a billion dollars of sales on Alibaba’s platforms in the first two minutes and $10 billion in just over an hour.
Undeniably, the record was helped by the strength of the Chinese yuan versus the US dollar, but it also stemmed from growing access to online shopping in China. Alibaba’s Joseph Tsai attributed the surge to “rising disposable incomes” among the over 300 million middle-class buyers in the country. The final total – more than the GDP of Iceland or Cameroon – leaves other shopping days in the shade. Imagine if the vast majority of the US population saw a dramatic boost in its spending power and you’ll get a sense for how Alibaba could manage this feat.
The hype swirling around the event certainly helped as well. Alibaba started Singles’ Day as a promo for lonely hearts, but it quickly grew into an all-encompassing sales event that makes Black Friday seem timid. This year, Alibaba held a launch event with western stars like Nicole Kidman and Pharrell Williams joining Chinese celebrities like actress Zhang Ziyi. It wanted buyers to get excited about spending money, and this clearly paid off.
Alibaba and its rivals can’t rest easily. There are concerns that online shopping may soon hit a wall, and Alibaba even turned 100,000 retail stores into internet purchasing hubs in a bid to attract shoppers who might have ignored the online blitz. That still leaves potential for significant growth as China’s middle class grows, though, and those that are already entrenched in the middle class may spend more online as they become comfortable with shopping from home.