'Double Eleven' at Alibaba: Singles' Day sets a new sales record

Akin to Cyber Monday in US, the event raked in more cash than last year and hit $38.3bn in gross merchandise volume.

    A screen shows the value of goods being transacted during Alibaba Group's Singles' Day global shopping festival at the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China [Aly Song/Reuters]
    A screen shows the value of goods being transacted during Alibaba Group's Singles' Day global shopping festival at the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China [Aly Song/Reuters]

    Chinese retailer Alibaba Group Holding Ltd said on Monday that sales for its annual Singles' Day shopping blitz crossed $30bn, putting the event on track to set a record in its 11th year.

    The figure is equivalent to about 80 percent of United States-based rival Amazon.com Inc's online store sales in the latest quarter, and matches takings across Alibaba's e-commerce platforms on Singles' Day last year.

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    The company said later that its gross merchandise volume for the whole event came to 268.4 billion yuan ($38.3bn).

    Some analysts had feared that the full 24-hour event would be held back by a slowing overall e-commerce industry in China at a time when the country's economic expansion is heading towards a historic low.

    Sales growth for Alibaba on Singles' Day has weakened as China's economy slowed. Last year, it posted a 27 percent year-on-year sales increase, the lowest in the event's 10-year history. Citic Securities had forecast sales to rise 20 to 25 percent this year.

    A gauge of Chinese consumer sentiment, the event has also become a shop window this year for Alibaba as the firm plans to sell $15bn worth of shares in Hong Kong this month.

    The United States-listed firm has spent big to diversify its business, yet still earns over four-fifths of revenue from e-commerce.

    Alibaba turned China's informal Singles' Day into a shopping event in 2009 and built it into the world's biggest online sales fest, dwarfing Cyber Monday in the US - which took in $7.9bn last year.

    The name is a play on the date, November 11 - rendered 11/11 or Double Eleven - as the event is also known.

    The event has since been replicated at home and abroad, with Singles' Day promotions found at rivals such as China's JD.com Inc and Pinduoduo Inc, as well as South Korea's 11Street and Singapore's Qoo10.

    'Buying more'

    The Chinese retail juggernaut, with a market value of $486bn, kicked off this year's 24-hour shopping bonanza with a live performance by US pop star Taylor Swift followed by live-streamed marketing of over 1,000 brands.

    Sales hit $1bn after just one minute and eight seconds and reached 158.31 billion yuan ($22.6bn) in the first nine hours, up 25 percent from the same point last year, Alibaba said.

    The firm also said 84 brands - including those of Apple Inc, L'Oreal SA and Fast Retailing Co Ltd's Uniqlo - each made over 100 million yuan ($14m) in sales in the first hour.

    Over half of merchants on Alibaba's Tmall marketplace used livestreaming to sell products during the event.

    "Nearly all our brands have opted for livestreaming promotions some time this year," says Josh Gardner, who helps overseas companies sell products on Tmall as CEO of Kung Fu Data.

    "It's more entertaining than browsing through a product detail page," said Gardner. "Traffic from livestreaming is easy to convert into transactions, and Tmall has supported stores that run livestreaming activities with resources."

    'Make 11 happen'

    One vendor, New Zealand-based nutritional supplement maker Clinicians, broadcast livestreams from a booth set up on Alibaba's campus.

    According to Carlos Zhao, China market manager for Clinicians, the company has seen a 40 percent jump in sales after it started livestreaming in China six months ago.

    "This is a product form from New Zealand, everything is in English, and so many people are selling similar products, so customers wonder, 'Which one do I choose from?'" he told the Reuters news agency. "Having a livestreamer can help to break those barriers."

    Tmall has said it expects over 500 million users to make purchases this year, about 100 million more than last year. It has also put more emphasis this year on promotions targeting areas outside of China's massive first- and second-tier cities.

    "The younger generation is buying more, and the customers from rural areas, the customers from lower-tier cities, they are buying imported products," Tmall General Manager Alvin Liu told reporters.

    Singles' Day is known to be a stressful time for Alibaba employees, with workers sleeping at the office to keep up with orders.

    This year, at Alibaba's campus in Hangzhou, workers bustle around in red T-shirts with the slogan "Make 11 happen".

    Percussion echoes through halls as departments bang large drums each time a sales record is broken. Pink rice cakes – dingshenggao, or victory cakes eaten by Yue Army soldiers during the Song Dynasty - fill the office snack bars.

    This is the first time Alibaba's Singles' Day is being held since its flamboyant cofounder Jack Ma resigned as chairman in September to "start a new life".

    Competitor JD.com, which started its own Singles' Day promotions on November 1, said transaction volume over the 11 days through Monday afternoon reached 179.4 billion yuan ($25bn).

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency