Singles’ Day, China’s once-timid Valentine’s Day
repackaged as a 24-hour online retail blitz, is about get
bigger for Alibaba.
In just a few days’ time, the world will meet the 10th
edition of Alibaba’s “Singles’ Day” shopping extravaganza and
the company says it expects to receive more than one billion
It’s capitalism’s shiny new slim-lined version of Christmas, but
with none of the gods and more of the goods. The event turns 10
years old in a matter of days.
as one generation meditates on the final shots of a distant
war, another generation in another part of the world will be
embracing the 10th edition of Alibaba’s “Singles’ Day.”
It’s a new kind of commercial extravaganza and the company that
runs it says it expects to receive over one billion orders by the
time it is done.
The occasion, China’s once-timid Valentine’s Day gone rogue,
viral, off the reservation, and totally, madly, delightfully
So what’s all the fuss about?
The English name Singles’ Day derives from guanggun jie (光棍节),
but the date is now widely nicknamed shuang shiyi (双十一), or “Two
11,” after the date, November 11. (or 11.11)
It’s a special day, when China’s ecommerce juggernauts atomize
prices on anything and everything for a delightfully unhinged 24
This year, Alibaba, the power behind the festival’s throne, is
leaning in and stretching 24 hours into 48, and sending China’s
incredible shopping spree around the world.
The Hangzhou-based company’s business-to-consumer platform Tmall
promises to present some 180,000 Chinese and global brands for
consumers’ purchasing pleasure.
Already half a million items are available and rolling off
e-shelves on Tmall’s pre-sale sale.
In 2018, Alibaba says its Tmall Global platform has, one would
suggest, a fairly comprehensive 3,700 categories of imported
goods from 75 countries around the world.
Last year, the 9th version of the guang gun jie or Singles’ Day
shopping festival raked in $25.3 billion in a 24-hour online
smorgasbord of unhinged expenditure.
Where did this all start?
The presentation or the suggestion of 11.11 has long been
connected in China to four lonely or perhaps a group of solitary
single figures, as well as four leafless or branchless trees.
The Chinese term guanggun literally means “bare branches” and
refers specifically to single men — a quiet, and in many ways,
potentially desperate issue in a country that has regulated birth
for almost a generation, resulting in a demographic glut of boys
— commonly known as the bare branches.
(That said, its also pretty tough for single ladies who push past
the ripened age of 28 on their lonesome who are called 剩女
sheng nu or “leftover women.”)
Black Friday on steroids
Singles’ Day was widely rumoured to have been conceived by a
socially awkward group of college dudes in an all-male dorm room
at Nanjing University in the 1990s. The concept from there
morphed into a nationwide bonding exercise for the socially
isolated young singles. It took off thanks to China’s
over-abundance of young men.
Alibaba founder Jack Ma seized on Singles’ Day to deal with a
lull in sales between October and Chinese New Year in late
Ma convinced around 30 merchants to lay on some discounts through
the selling platform, Tmall.
The event was an instant success.
Five years later, 27,000 merchants were on board and merrily
Ma, using targeted marketing and China’s economic shift to
domestic consumption to appeal to the country to take a moment to
buy stuff online, helped make Singles’ Day what it is today.
China was encouraged to stay in and buy. And they did.
For the first time last year, Alibaba surpassed $25 billion in
revenue. By comparison, the Thanksgiving Thursday through Cyber
Monday sales for 2017 added up to $14.5 billion.
Black Friday on steroids is merely a baby bunny in the terrifying
headlights of what will be Singles’ Day 2018.
The festival has seen phenomenal year-on-year growth.
Sales back in 2013 pretty much doubled 2012’s $3 billion haul.
The next year, Singles’ Day sales of over $9 billion first surged
past the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In the
first 90 minutes of November 11, 2015, Alibaba reported sales of
And in 2016, Alibaba smashed records again, bringing in $5
billion in just the first 60 minutes of the festival, as Ma had
Alibaba’s final figure for last year — 168.3 billion yuan or
$25.3 billion — was 40% higher than the previous figure and
on-par with the nominal GDP of Estonia or Uganda, according to
the World Trade Organization.
Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch
An internet of many, many things
The logistical impact is difficult to reckon with, as almost a
billion parcels were packed and posted.
This year, Alibaba is preparing for the rush by opening what is
said to be the country’s biggest
Alibaba’s logistics affiliate Cainiao Network announced the new
facility located in Wuxi, last month, to help cope with the
ballooning demand, adding that it handled more than 810 million
orders last year.
The new warehouse is positioned as an internet of things-powered,
“robotic smart warehouse” with close to 700 automated vehicles.
“It was only five years ago that parcel orders surpassed 100
million for the first time,” Cainiao Vice President Ben Wang
said, rather wistfully.
Alibaba, which started out sensibly enough (and incredibly
practically) as a one-stop online mall connecting buyers and
suppliers, has since expanded to become an e-commerce blueprint,
a monument to consumption, driven by its twin engines Taobao and
As Alibaba has invested in China’s growing digital innovation,
the company has begun experimenting and delivering financial
technologies, digital entertainment, cloud computing and
on-demand local internet of things services.
With China successfully increasing online access and disposable
incomes out of rural China, and as the state closes in on hosting
a billion smartphone users (in no small part thanks to the
notoriously cheap Huawei and Xiaomi devices on Shuang Shiyi), the
parallel boom in
ecommerce revenue has been thrilling.
In 2018, the global shopping phenomenon will be embraced across
400 cities, some 200,000 smart stores, and 100 of the mainland
China’s special economic zones.
Tmall will engage 180,000 Chinese and global brands. About
500,000 items will be available for preorder on Tmall from
October 20. The Tmall Global platform will provide 3,700
categories of imported goods from 75 countries and regions.
In the months leading up to Singles Day, supermarket shelves from
Ballarat to Brisbane get totally cleaned out of milk powders and
formula, seen here in Alibaba’s showroom, as local “daigou,”
or personal shoppers ramp up their sales.
China still boasts the highest activity during Singles’ Day, but
the idea is gaining traction in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand,
and the Philippines.
Alibaba’s partners range from Google to southeast Asian platforms
like Lazada out of the
Philippines as the company’s
New Retail Strategy, is aimed squarely at moving Singles’ Day
beyond China to international buyers.
Alibaba is aware that Southeast Asia alone will be an $88
billion-plus ecommerce market
by 2025 — and the interest that Lazada and other regional
e-commerce platforms are showing in the Singles’ Day sale is the
shape of how ecommerce will mature in this region in the
In turn, the online retail giant hopes to smash last year’s
record-breaking revenue of $25.3 billion especially given how the
day falls on a Sunday this year, potentially making it more
popular than ever with China’s dedicated stay-at-home hoppers.
“This year marks the 10th anniversary of 11.11. On the back of
China’s explosive digital transformation, the Festival’s
astounding growth over the past decade has powered the steady
growth of quality consumption sought by Chinese shoppers. The
evolution also showcases the development of the Alibaba ecosystem
over time expanding well beyond ecommerce,” Daniel Zhang, Alibaba
Group CEO told a news conference in Beiijing to launch the 2018
Buying begins at midnight on November 10 in Sydney, and from
there, like some beautiful commercial butterfly, shuang shiyi
will spread its wings and take off across the waiting retail