1111 Equals $5.75 Billion as China Sets Singles Day Online Sales Record

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Bigger than Cyber Monday (which notched up US $1.46 billion in sales last November) and bigger than China’s National Day “Golden Week,” China’s Singles Day (“光棍节”) also known as “1111” as it falls on 11/11, has become the the biggest online shopping day of the year—worldwide. This year’s event was expected to break all previous records, and that it swiftly did.

In the first twenty minutes of the day’s online sales going live, China’s dominant commerce site, Taobao, recorded US$500 million in sales. By 10:00 am, Taobao had crossed US$2.46 billion in sales. By 1:00 pm, the sales frenzy passed last year’s tally. By the end of the day, owner Alibaba (China’s equivalent of Amazon) crowed that its Taobao and Tmall online shopping hubs recorded 35 billion yuan or RMB, or a whopping US$5.75 billion.

Not bad for a holiday that didn’t even exist 25 years ago.[more]

Popularized at universities along China’s east coast in the 1990s as a way for single college students to celebrate bachelorhood as a kind of anti-Valentine’s Day, the holiday that Bloomberg Businessweek dubbed “arbitrary consumerism” has morphed in a commercial juggernaut, with Taobao’s day of slashed prices and deals matched by brick-and-mortar promotions at restaurants, clubs, karaoke parlours, movie theaters, travel agencies, and other businesses, including many Western brands.

Spurred by deals such as online discounts on BMWs, a pre-holiday poll by Weibo parent Sina.com, found that greater than 60 percent planned to participate in online sale shopping on 11/11 while “less than 15 per cent were certain that they could resist the sales.”

No surprise, then, that Singles Day 2013 have eclipsed the previous numbers, when Taobao recored a total day’s sales of 19 billion yuan ($3.1 billion), a number that the shopping platform reached by noon yesterday. Taobao parent Alibaba confirmed early that 2013 had broken its previous 11/11 sales record, even though its figures did not include sales made by other popular commerce platforms like 360Buy, Dangdang, Amazon China, Yancl, Sunning, or Gome.

As a commerce generator, Singles Day is unparalleled and it’s no surprise western brands want a piece of the action. In addition to foreign products from diapers to luxury watches being popular discounted 11/11 purchased, brands with their own Taobao stores like Gap, Microsoft and Adidas have all gotten in on what has become the world’s leading online shopping event.

While heavy discounts are the norm on Singles Day, the frenzy offers brands a perfect opportunity to introduce themselves and hook customers that will come back durting the year to shop more.

With online shopping up even in lower third and fourth tier cities, nearly three quarters of all Chinese told surveyors recently that they planned to buy something online this year. Not for nothing, this year is the year experts have predicted China’s online purchasing will surpass that of the United States, something that is unlikely to revert. Market researchers at Bain & Co. see China’s online shopping increasing at an annual rate of 32 percent through 2015.

In fact, the raw, ever increasing numbers have given the holiday a bit of a spectator sport feel. Chinese media reports breathlessly on the new apexes reached and how these dizzying new record sales impact stock prices and the futures of commerce platforms in the cutthroat China online marketplace.

It’s noteworthy that the explosive commercialization of Single’s Day has not happened without a little soul-searching about the original point. With younger Chinese increasingly stressed about work and social expectations amid an unsure national future, coupling has become just one more pressure.

While the nation was online shopping itself into a stupor, numerous articles looked into how men now feel pressure to own (increasingly expensive) property before they are regarded as legitimate potential spouses. So while Single’s Day 2013 saw heretofore unparalleled purchasing, it also saw a new peak in “diaosi” (“loser”) lament for lonelyhearts across the mainland.

Case in point: the cartoon below, which shows a “diaosi” lamenting the holiday by asking a cigarette, a soccer ball, an oil bread stick and a bottle of baijiu liquor, “11/11. So, how are we going to spend it?”

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