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Alibaba Singles’ Day sales shatter record

Meng Jing/Zhang Chunyan
Updated: Nov 12,2014 7:34 AM     China Daily

Employees of Alibaba Group in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, are thrilled to learn that sales topped 10 billion yuan ($1.63 billion) in the first 38 minutes of the e-commerce giant’s annual Singles’ Day online shopping festival on Nov 11.[Photo/Xinhua]

E-commerce giant Alibaba has turned an obscure Chinese holiday into the country’s biggest shopping event. Now, it is striving to take the success of Singles’ Day global by tapping foreign brands and overseas customers.

Many foreign companies, such as Costco Wholesale, Origins Natural Resources and American Eagle Outfitters, participated in Nov 11’s event for the first time.

Within 24 hours, various Alibaba platforms sold 57.1 billion yuan ($9.3 billion) of merchandise, eclipsing last year’s record of 36.2 billion yuan, according to Alibaba.

Li Feifei, who works in London, bought a talking Chinese pen and two pairs of shoes online for her son. “The talking pen, which is hard to get in Britain, is helpful for my son to learn Chinese overseas, and the shoes are much cheaper than at other times,” she said.

Zhang Yong, chief operations officer of Alibaba, said, “Our goal is to make Nov 11 a global festival. In another five to 10 years, we want to host an event that helps consumers all over the world buy products from wherever they want.”

Singles’ Day, a Chinese twist on Valentine’s Day, was invented by students in the 1990s. When written numerically, the date is reminiscent of “bare branches”, the Chinese expression for bachelors and spinsters.

Alibaba began marketing Nov 11 as its biggest sales event in 2009, rivals jumped on board, and the day turned into an online shopping bonanza.

However, to make the Chinese online shopping festival a truly global buying spree will require more recognition of Chinese e-commerce companies by foreign shoppers, according to Burghardt Groeber, e-commerce expert and vice-president of Greater China for enterprise software provider Hybris AG.

He said that Chinese e-commerce companies might be well-known by overseas Chinese, but Western buyers are only slowly building their trust in Chinese platforms when it comes to secure handling of their money and personal details, and the on time delivery of exactly what they ordered.

Bloomberg contributed to this story.