In fact, Alibaba recorded its first $1 billion in sales this Singles' Day in only 17 minutes—it took about an hour last year. After about the same amount of time this year, Alibaba touched $2 billion in gross merchandise volume:
This year, Alibaba's sales are expected to be about 50 billion yuan ($8.17 billion), a 40 percent increase from last year, according to Ben Cavender, principal at China Market Research Group.
Vanessa Zeng, a Beijing-based Forrester senior analyst for China's e-commerce sector, estimated that sales could even reach 60 billion yuan ($9.8 billion) with the continued growth of mobile shopping in China. Alibaba said it saw $32 billion in sales on mobile in September alone.
But the day is about much more than just posting big sales numbers, analysts said.
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"Alibaba uses this event to reward consumers and reinforce its e-commerce influence in China market," Zeng said. "The Singles' Day event has become the most influential e-commerce campaign in China. Almost all e-tailers and even offline retailers join this event. Alibaba tries to demonstrate its leading position and gather as many merchants as possible to its platform through this event, and hit its competitors."
Alibaba, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange in September, has seen its stock surge more than 72 percent from its record $25 billion IPO price. Its competitors in the Chinese e-commerce space, meanwhile, will be hoping to catch some of the Nov. 11 sales fervor. JD.com, Suning and VIP.com have all been marketing heavily for the sales festival, Zeng said.
Even brick-and-mortar sales operations in China are getting in on the action because they "don't want to be left behind," said Sandy Shen, Shanghai-based director of e-commerce research at Gartner.