Sonya Korshenboym for Quartz

A complete guide to Alibaba

Member exclusive by Michael Standaert for Alibaba's next step

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, 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.

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