Alibaba just sold over $1 billion of merchandise in 8 minutes in China’s largest online shopping day

Good numbers.
Good numbers.
Image: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer
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The world’s biggest online shopping holiday, “Singles’ Day” kicked off yesterday morning (Nov. 11) in China—and the numbers were immediately massive. Chinese e-retailer Alibaba’s merchandise sales exceeded $1 billion within the event’s first eight minutes, beginning at midnight in Beijing.

That’s rocket speed compared to last year, when the company took an hour to sell 11 billion yuan ($1.8 billion) worth of goods—and is a stark illustration of how much bigger China’s online shopping market is than the US’s.

The final sales tally over 24 hours was 91.2 billion yuan ($14.3 billion), an increase of about 60% from last year.

By comparison, the US’s largest online shopping event, “Cyber Monday” brought in over $2 billion in sales from desktops during the entire day, ComScore reported. (The majority of Americans still do their online shopping on a desktop.)

The day got off to a roaring start. By 8am in Beijing, eight hours into the event, Alibaba had processed 41.7 billion yuan ($6.56 billion) in sales. That’s more than Americans bought on desktops in the entire five day period between Thanksgiving and the US’s “Cyber Monday” last year—and about $2 billion more than Netflix’s or Macy’s overall online sales last year.

Then the numbers just kept getting bigger:

  • Just before 10AM, Alibaba processed more than 50 billion yuan ($7.86 billion), more than the NFL’s annual revenues in 2014.
  • By noon, the company claimed it surpassed 57.1 billion yuan—its sales orders from the previous year.
  • And just before 2PM, the company announced it had sold more than 63.6 billion yuan worth of goods, just over $10 billion, more than car maker Ferrari was valued in its recent IPO.

Singles’ Day, held on November 11 every year in China, ostensibly sprang from a university student celebration of male and female bachelorhood. It has since been transformed by Alibaba into an online sales bonanza.

Last year on Singles’ Day, Alibaba’s entire sales were $9.3 billion during the 24-hour period, a 60% increase from the year before. Analysts from SunTrust are predicting a 30% jump this year to $12 billion.

Alibaba racks up huge numbers because vendors on the company’s T-mall and Taobao e-commerce sites offer steep discounts on everything from diapers to mobile phones for the occasion. Spending heavily on advertising and promotion also helps.

For the first time in the event’s seven-year history, Alibaba rang in Singles’ Day this year the night before, with a gala ceremony at the Beijing Water Cube, the huge aquatics center that was the site of swimming matches during the 2008 Summer Olympics. The event was televised on Hunan TV and streamed live on Youku Tudou (which Alibaba recently acquired), and featured appearances from Chinese celebrities and singers, along with Daniel Craig and Kevin Spacey, who reprised his role as Francis Underwood from “House of Cards.” (The Netflix-produced drama has been an unexpected hit in China.)

This year’s Singles’ Day is critical for Alibaba, which has been under fire from investors since its $21.8 billion IPO in New York last year, after which the company’s stock price dropped about 40% in twelve months. While Alibaba has rebounded slightly with a better-than-expected earnings report last October, skeptics point out that China’s economy is slowing. On Friday, famed hedge fund manager Jim Chanos reportedly suggested betting against the company.