SAN FRANCISCO — Alibaba's Single's Day, China's one-day shopping spree, posted sales of $17.8 billion as of midnight Beijing time, a 32% year-over-year growth rate.
“A lot of us had a $20 billion estimate in our heads, but I don’t they’re they’re going to hit it. But it’s still incredibly impressive in terms of the dollar volume,” said Deborah Weinswig, managing director of Fung Global Retail & Technology.
In a news conference in the last hour of the sale, Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma said that his company was the innovative engine of China's new economy and that the growth of Single's Day reflects huge domestic demand among China's 1.3 billion people.
Chinese consumers are very phone-based when it comes to e-commerce. This year a full 82% of sales came from mobile devices, compared with 68% in 2015, Alibaba said.
Single's Day takes place primarily in China, though now 20 countries overall participate.
U.S. companies are a big part of the sale and this year the top five U.S. brands were Apple, Nike, New Balance, Playboy and Skechers, according to Alibaba.
Close to 100,000 brands, 11,000 of them from outside China, sold on the site, with overseas brands accounted for 37% of sales, according to Alibaba.
An event in China
Since it first launched Single's Day in 2009, Alibaba has succeeded in turning a simple online sale into a nationwide event that launches with a four-hour star-studded TV gala countdown.
When the sale began at midnight on Nov. 11 in China, millions of buyers pressed the button to purchase items they'd already pre-loaded into their carts. Alibaba posted $1 billion in sales within the first five minutes, the company reported.
"As one of China's digital entrepreneurs told us, in the experience economy 'there is nothing more powerful than emotionalising your users'. Is this exactly what Alibaba has managed to do with the Singles Day,” said Jimmy Huang, a professor of information services at Warwick Business School in Coventry in the United Kingdom.
An average of 120,000 transactions took place every second, up 1.4% from last year. A record-breaking 175,000 orders took place every second during the first hour of sales, according to Clavis Insights.
Rebranded as 11.11
The origin of Singles Day was among university students in Nanjing. Called Bachelors' Day, it began in the 1990s as a Valentine's Day-like holiday.
The date, 11-11, was chosen because it is made up of 1's, or singles. What started as a day for bachelors to gather with friends and meet new people broadened to include women and be a general "meet possible mates" day.
Singles' Day is the Chinese translation of 光棍节, Guānggùn Jié, or "bare branches holiday." Bare branches is a Chinese term for bachelors because they have not yet married and had children, or 'borne fruit.'
In 2009 Alibaba rebranded 11-11 it as a day for unmarried people to buy items they wanted for themselves or for friends, rather than waiting for a wedding and the cascade of presents it traditionally involves.