Last November 11th was Singles Day in China, an unofficial national holiday that was originally designed to celebrate single men and women (hence a date full of ones, 11/11). Of course, what started at Nanjing University 25 years ago has evolved into something else entirely: the largest shopping day of the year.
At the center of this commercial fever is Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce behemoth. It is Alibaba which has made Singles Day what it is today, and it’s the company that has reaped the greatest reward from it. In a 24-hour period this past November 11th, the company brought in $30 billion in sales on its shopping sites Taobao and Tmall. That’s more than twice what Black Friday and Cyber Monday earned, combined. Put another way: Alibaba had more sales in a single day than McDonald’s had for an entire year.
It’d be easy to let such stunning figures define Alibaba as solely a digital marketplace. But going forward, Alibaba is aiming to do far more than get consumers to part with their money on high-profile shopping days. While it has rivals in the e-commerce space (like JD.com, which is a tenth the size of Alibaba), its main rival in almost every move it now makes is social-networking company Tencent, owner of the super-app WeChat that has become ubiquitous in the daily lives of over one billion people. The reason is data.