China’s Singles’ Day brought in nearly $9 billion in sales in the first 20 minutes

Walking a tightrope.
Walking a tightrope.
Image: Reuters/Aly Song
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Retail giant Alibaba’s annual Singles’ Day, a daylong bonanza of sales on just about every type of product it sells, has only just begun, and it’s already generated an inordinate amount of cash for the Chinese company.

Sales topped $800 million in the first minute, and surpassed $8.7 billion in just the first 20 minutes that the deals were online, according to Bloomberg. Last year, sales topped $30 billion, a massive jump over the $25 billion generated in 2017.

The event, which originally began in universities in China in the 1990s, falls on Nov. 11, and was started as a sort-of retaliation to Valentine’s Day, celebrating singletons. Many Chinese companies, from Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao sites to JD.com and Pinduoduo, have since latched on to the day, ballooning it into an international shopping spree, with customers from across Asia looking to snag deals, much like Amazon has done in the US and Europe with its also made-up Prime Day shopping holiday.

In recent years, international brands and stars have tried to capitalize on the shopping event, with US companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola now among the top-selling brands on Singles’ Day, the New York Times reported. US pop star Taylor Swift was chosen to perform at Alibaba’s opening event—much like she did for this year’s Prime Day. Swift’s most recent album, Lover, sold better in China than it did in the US. Reality TV star Kim Kardashian also jumped on the Chinese retail bandwagon this week, live-streaming on Taobao with local influencer Viya, to show off her KKW cosmetics line to the roughly 12 million people watching the stream.

While last year’s event was gargantuan, especially compared to the roughly $8 billion spent on the Cyber Monday shopping holiday in the US in 2018, growth is slowing. Alibaba said it expects some 500 million people to participate in Singles’ Day this year, up from 400 million the year prior, according to Reuters. The retailing bacchanal will be seen as a test of China’s economic health, amid the ongoing trade war with the US, and the growing fear that the country’s economic growth could fall to levels not seen since the early 1990s.