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PHOTO ESSAY

Photos: The excitement and spectacle of Alibaba’s Singles Day

By Johnny Simon
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

November 11th, or 11.11, or “Singles Day” is one of the biggest shopping days in the world and testament to Alibaba’s power and scale.

Jack Ma didn’t invent the holiday (it began as a playful custom with university students), nor does Alibaba wield a monopoly on its celebration. But Alibaba’s full-throttled embrace of Singles Day transformed November 11th into a multibillion-dollar juggernaut of consumerism that dwarfs Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. It’s grown so big that Singles Day sales have begun to pop up in the US in recent years.

In China, the event is a multifaceted spectacle. During the actual shopping period, Alibaba broadcasts a live show with Jack Ma sharing the stage with international celebrities. The day is not all Alibaba’s either. Chinese e-commerce rival JD also makes a hefty footprint on November 11th—in 2018 it reported about $23 billion in sales on 11.11, compared to Alibaba’s $30 billion.

Reuters/Aly Song
A screen shows the value of goods being sold at Alibaba Group’s 11.11 Singles Day global shopping festival in Shanghai, China in 2018.
China Daily via Reuters
Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, and actress Scarlett Johansson at Alibaba’s 11.11 shopping festival opening in 2016
Reuters/Aly Song
US singer Pharrell Williams and Hong Kong singer Karen Mok perform in 2017.
Reuters/Aly Song
Jack Ma and actor Nicole Kidman in 2017.
Reuters/Jason Lee
Workers listen to their line manager as he prepares them for an upcoming Singles Day at a sorting centre of Zhongtong (ZTO) Express in Beijing in 2015. E-commerce has been a huge boon to the logistics industry, but the ever-bigger Singles Day exacerbates the industry’s twin dilemmas of cut-throat competition and rising labor costs.
Reuters
Alibaba staff dry quilts for company employees to rest in preparation for the upcoming Singles Day on Nov. 3, 2016.
China Daily via Reuters
People grab virtual red envelopes with their mobile phones during an augmented-reality event held by Alibaba ahead of Singles Day, at a shopping mall in Hangzhou on Nov. 6, 2016.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Models take part in a fashion show to coincide with Singles Day at the JD.com headquarters in Beijing on Nov. 11, 2016.
Roman Pilipey/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock
A man throws a condom to a wall at a booth advertising condoms during Singles Day in Beijing on Nov. 11, 2018.
Reuters
Staff members load bags of goods onto a bullet train at a railway station in Shenzhen on Nov. 11, 2018.
Reuters
Employees sort boxes and parcels at a logistics center after Singles Day in Jinan, Shandong province on Nov. 13, 2017.
Reuters
Employees sort boxes and parcels at a JD.com logistics station in Xi’an on Nov. 13, 2017.
How Hwee Young/EPA/REX/Shutterstock
Chinese workers transport goods for delivery at a sorting center for JD.com on Nov. 11, 2017
How Hwee Young/EPA/REX/Shutterstock
A delivery man drives his three-wheel delivery cart at a distribution center for JD.com on Nov. 11, 2017.
Wu Hong/EPA/REX/Shutterstock
Consumers look for their parcels outside a JD.com store on Nov. 11, 2015.
Reuters/Jason Lee
Deliverymen work among packages beside a road in Beijing on Nov. 11, 2018.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
A staff member jumps for a photo to celebrate, after Alibaba’s Singles Day sets a new record of more than $30 billion in Shanghai, China on Nov. 12, 2018.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Alibaba workers nap as they wait for the final results of Singles Day.