Alibaba Group said Saturday that Singles Day sales processed through founder Jack Ma’s Alipay unit totaled $17.8 billion of gross merchandise volume across Alibaba's China and international retail marketplaces, a 32% increase over last year's shopping event. Mobile GMV settled through Alipay accounted for 82% of that total, compared to 69% in 2015.
Shoppers from 235 countries and regions completed cross-border Singles Day transactions on Friday, and 37% of total buyers purchased items from international brands or merchants.
Japan, the U.S., South Korea, Australia and Germany led all countries selling to Chinese shoppers on Singles Day. The top U.S. brands were Apple, Nike, New Balance Playboy, and Skechers, while the top European brands were Siemens, Philips, Adidas, Jack Jones and Only.
Alibaba worked to build up demand and anticipation of its blockbuster sales event, and the pent-up enthusiasm led the company to log $1.4 billion in Singles Day sales in less than seven minutes, reaching $5 billion within the first hour. To do that, the conglomerate’s marketplaces began working with brands months ago and released a sometimes complex system of vouchers, coupons and deals, according to Betty Zhu, a senior manager at PwC’s Shanghai office.
“For this year, the promotion for Singles Day started way before — in September and October, and there were different kinds of promotions,” Zhu told Retail Dive in a phone interview. “You could pay a deposit and buy things discounted on that day. Go to these websites, claim vouchers in advance, get a discount if you shop for 200 or more. Singles Day was more complicated this year. When it started it was so simple: Starting from 12:00 a.m. November 11, some products would have discounts.”
Exactly what that means is unclear, though. With so many consumer goods now part of the blockbuster event, many people are simply postponing their regular shopping for a day when they can find things like their favorite shampoo steeply discounted and buy it in bulk, Zhu said.
Those steep discounts, plus the fact that Alibaba’s accounting methods are viewed with some skepticism, leave some questioning its profit-taking ability on Singles Day. And the massive acceleration in growth is not likely to be sustained, according to Duncan Clark, founder of investment advisory firm BDA China and an early adviser to Alibaba.
“They’re on the treadmill they’ve created. They need to create a new paradigm and way of measuring success,” Clark told Bloomberg. “You will approach a point at which Chinese consumers are sated.”
A clue to the future of Singles Day can be found in Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang's remarks Friday, in which he said that the event signals the "future of retail" and hinted that this year's big lead-up (which included opportunities for virtual reality-based shopping) was just the beginning.
"This year’s 11.11 is a preview of the future of retail, where entertainment, commerce and interactive engagement intersect seamlessly,” Zhang said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. “From the kick-off of warm-up activities to last night’s countdown gala and all the way through the 24-hour global shopping festival itself, we’ve seen unprecedented engagement between consumers and merchants. 11.11 showcased how online and offline retail will be reinvented to offer brand new shopping experiences to our hundreds of millions of mobile, digitally savvy active users.”
This story is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2016 holiday shopping season. You can browse our holiday page for more stories.