“Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. logged a record 91.2 billion yuan ($14.3 billion) in sales on Singles’ Day, turning a sweethearts’ holiday dreamed up two decades ago into a major online shopping event.”
Transactions had passed last year’s record of $9.3 billion before midday in China, according to the company. The top-selling items by retailers using Alibaba’s platform included baby-related and nutritional products, Nike sneakers and Levi’s jeans, the company said.
Chairman Jack Ma raised the stakes this year by moving the event’s headquarters to Beijing, bringing in more foreign brands and enlisting Hollywood celebrities Daniel Craig and Kevin Spacey to add glamour to the shopathon. Tapping into rising disposable incomes has paid off for China’s biggest e-commerce emporium as it captures more of the country’s surging smartphone use with restaurant deliveries and video streaming.
“Chinese consumers have a lot of money in their hands,” said Chen Xingdong, chief China economist at BNP Paribas SA in Beijing. “Online retailers need to customize their products to serve these increasingly savvy urban consumers. ”
Alibaba got a boost as China’s retail sales accelerated in October, overcoming the slowest economic growth in 25 years. Retail sales climbed 11 percent, the quickest gain this year and beating the median projection of economists, as the nation’s leaders seek to re-balance the economy toward consumption and services.
“The consumers that can create and lead demand will survive,” Ma said Wednesday night. “In the next 15 years, China’s economy will be good.”
Taking Singles’ Day festivities to China’s political, economic and media hub came after Alibaba’s roller-coaster first year as a public company. A record offering was followed by a record fall below the initial price, allegations the company wasn’t doing enough to fight counterfeits on its platforms, and the replacement of its chief executive officer. The shares fell 1.9 percent to $79.85 at the close in New York.
Ma kicked off the event with a four-hour variety show that included a performance by “American Idol” finalist Adam Lambert and an appearance by Craig, star of the James Bond films. “House of Cards” star Spacey made a YouTube video.
Singles’ Day, a Chinese twist on Valentine’s Day, was invented by students in the 1990s, according to the Communist Party-owned People’s Daily. When written numerically, Nov. 11 is reminiscent of “bare branches,” the Chinese expression for bachelors and spinsters.
The Singles’ Day promotion was started by Alibaba in 2009 and copied by rivals, morphing into China’s version of Cyber Monday. For the first six years, results were tabulated in Alibaba’s hometown of Hangzhou, in eastern China.
Alibaba estimated that 1.7 million deliverymen, 400,000 vehicles and 200 airplanes would be deployed to handle packages holding everything from iPhones to underwear. Mobile devices accounted for 69 percent of Wednesday’s transactions, Alibaba said in a statement.
“The sales on Singles’ Day shows the power of the Internet and that China still has considerable consumption potential,” said Zhu Qibing, a Beijing-based analyst at China Minzu Securities Co. “Alibaba’s success is a success of its platform, and it’s hard to replicate. ” To boost traffic on its platforms, Alibaba is focusing on attracting U.S. retailers to China.
To boost traffic on its platforms, Alibaba is focusing on attracting U.S. retailers to China, President Michael Evans told Bloomberg TV. The company is opening a third U.S. office in New York to go along with those in Washington and San Francisco, he said. Ma said Alibaba is considering bringing the 24-hour Nov. 11 event to the U.S. and the U.K.
“This year’s event is more global with international players joining in,” said Fangting Sun, a senior research analyst with Euromonitor. “Alibaba aims to both attract more international players selling products to China and the domestic players to expand to the overseas markets.”
The company said in September it was adding Beijing as another headquarters, with an eye toward “the globalization of Nov. 11.”
“Alibaba wants this event to be high profile — Beijing has the kind of media resources that it will need,” said Jeff Hao, a Hong Kong-based analyst at China Merchants Securities Holdings.
“Gaining exposure is a means to ensure growth this year.”
This feature originally appeared in Bloomberg.