Internet Retail

Alibaba to smash Singles' Day sales record

Ansuya Harjani, with reporting by Wendy Min in Beijing
Alibaba: 'Singles' Day' by the numbers
Alibaba: 'Singles' Day' by the numbers

Alibaba's Singles' Day sales are expected to break a record this year, driven by China's burgeoning Internet population and a growing number of participating retailers, analysts say.

Held on Nov. 11, Singles' Day—also known as 11/11—was created by young Chinese to celebrate or lament being single, but it has evolved into the biggest 24-hour online shopping event in the world.

Last year, Alibaba booked $5.8 billion in transactions on the day, more than double the $1.7 billion sold on the Cyber Monday—the biggest online sales day for the U.S.that falls on the first Monday after Thanksgiving.

This year, Alibaba's sales are expected somewhere in the range of 50 billion yuan ($8.17 billion), a 40 percent increase from last year, according to Ben Cavender, principal at China Market Research Group.

"I think we will probably see stronger overall sales this year compared to last year," said Cavender. "In terms of products, the most popular items will probably be various food products like baby formula and consumer and home electronics."

Alibaba's 'Singles Day' focus
Alibaba's 'Singles Day' focus

Countdown to 11/11

The excitement has been building with the majority of e-commerce players launching aggressive online promotional campaigns to draw consumer attention and drive traffic to their sites.

Alibaba's preorders for Singles' Day promotions started in mid-October; consumers can pay a deposit upfront to reserve the product at the Singles' Day price and fork out the balance on Tuesday.

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Duan Ling, a 20-year-old student in Beijing, has already spent hours on websites like Taobao and Tmall, which are owned by Alibaba Group.

"You don't usually get so many special deals, so 11/11 is the best time to grab whatever you want," she said. "But it's not good for my bank account."

Delivery staff, meanwhile, are bracing for a busy day. "11/11 might be fun and shopping for many but for us, it is busy, busy, busy. I have to work extra hard to make sure delivery is on time. There's more than the usual amount," said Ye Junrong, who works for an express delivery service.

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Five hundred million packages are expected to be delivered between Tuesday and Sunday, a near 50 percent on-year increase, according to Barclays.

Going global?

In a bid to make Singles' Day a global event, Alibaba has invited Tmall Global and AliExpress merchants to participate in the promotions this year.

Tmall Global is a business-to-consumer platform enabling businesses based outside China to reach mainland consumers. Ali Express is e-commerce site for users outside of China.

Selected items in the AliExpress marketplace will be offered at a 50 percent discount and shoppers in Brazil, Spain, Russia and other key markets can enjoy free international shipping for selected items, according to the AliExpress website.

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"Consumers from more than 220 countries will have the chance to purchase promotional products via AliExpress and Chinese consumers will be able to buy promotional products from overseas countries directly via Tmall Global," said Alicia Yap, analyst at Barclays.

"The China '11/11' shopping day could lead to a global shopping frenzy," she said.