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Singles Day breaks all records - again

Happy faces at Chinese online giant Alibaba: the inventor of Singles Day as a commercial event (now officially called “Global Shopping Festival“) announces ever increasing sales on 11th November each year; the sky seems the limit. Last year's record of 120.7 billion yuan (17.8 billion US dollars) was broken by midday on Saturday and increased by 48 billion yuan to reach a staggering 168.3 billion yuan (25.3 billion US dollars) by the end of the day.

The first hour of the mega event between midnight and 1 o'clock was key, accounting for goods sold worth 9.9 billion US dollars, almost half of all sales. Accordingly, Alipay, the group's electronic payment system, was running at full speed: at peak times, about five minutes past midnight, it handled 256,000 transactions per second, the company said, twice as many as during peak times in the previous year.

Alibaba calls and everyone joins in

Given the deep discounts offered not only by Alibaba but anyone, including competitors such as JD.com, many Chinese customers wait for Singles Day to fulfill their annual needs, for example when it comes to creams, toothpaste, soaps and other durable goods. But clothing and electronics such as air conditioning, microwaves and electric shavers were also sought after. According to Alibaba, 92 percent of all purchases were made by smartphone, cementing China's position as the world's undisputed number one in m-commerce.

Singles Day breaks all records - again

Following its motto “retail as entertainment”, Alibaba celebrated in style - first on the eve of the event with a television gala with celebrities such as Alibaba boss Jack Ma, singer Pharrell Williams, Hollywood star Nicole Kidman and Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. Then, on Sunday, with a huge party in Shanghai, processing 24 hours of continuous stress, 812 million orders (657 million in 2016), 15 million listed products and 140,000 brand partners.

Alibaba counts on consumer engagement and brand building

But it is not only about sales but also consumer engagement and brand building, both of which Alibaba achieved. “I’ve talked with a lot of brand partners, and all of them recognize the importance of good sales. But more importantly, they know 11.11 isn’t just about sales. It’s about consumer engagement and brand-building,” explains Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang. “Success on 11.11 comes because every participant contributes the best resources, the best products and the best services to customers on that day.”

Singles Day was launched by Alibaba as a commercial event in 2009, having no connection to the marital status of its customers. The day is named after the single digits in its date, 11.11, which was used as an alternative to Valentine's Day by Chineses students since the early '90s, celebrating their single status through karaoke parties and exchanging gifts.

Alibaba capitalised on the commercial aspect and incentivised gift giving through deep discounts. Now, China's students are busy shopping online on Singles Day, thus boosting the country's economy. And indeed, increased domestic consumption has made up for spending from abroad, which has been declining, leading to the Chinese economy growing by 6.9 percent in the first three quarters of the year. And other countries like the United States and the UK are only too eager to emulate Singles Day to reap its success in their own markets.

Photos: Alibaba