Alibaba busts Singles Day sales record

Alibaba breaks Singles Day sales record
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Just halfway into this year's Singles Day shopping event, Alibaba has eclipsed its record sales result from 2014.

The e-commerce giant says it generated $10 billion in gross merchandise volume (GMV) within 14 hours of the start of the shopping event — well above last year's record of $9.3 billion, which Alibaba surpassed by 1 p.m. in China on Wednesday. It's also well above the $2.4 billion sold on Cyber Monday, the biggest online sales day in the U.S.

GMV is the total amount settled through mobile wallet Alipay across Alibaba's domestic and international platforms.

Ever since the holiday officially began at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, Alibaba has giving sales updates. In the first eight minutes of this year's sale, the company generated more than $1 billion in sales, beating last year's record of 17 minutes to hit the billion-dollar mark.

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By the time the first 17 minutes and 29 seconds of the retail extravaganza had passed, Alibaba clinched its second billion and by the first hour, it had secured $3.9 billion. After the first 90 minutes, that number had swelled to $5 billion.

Known as the world's biggest 24-hour online shopping event, Singles Day falls on November 11th every year. 2015 could see the event record its best performance yet, with 56 percent of mainland Internet users expected to increase spending from last year, according to a recent Nielsen survey.

This year, mobile sales are a key driver for Alibaba.

Mobile accounted for 73.9 percent, or $2.9 billion, of total GMV in the first hour on Wednesday, compared to 45.7 percent during last year's sale, while the total number of mobile buyers exceeded more than 27 million.

The impressive numbers are undoubtedly a boon for Alibaba, which has previously struggled with mobile strategy amid rising competition from other Internet giants such as Tencent.

"This year, Alibaba Group has transformed 11.11 into an unprecedented mobile shopping experience. Over the course of the 24-hour shopping marathon, consumers will have a new surprise every hour that has been especially tailored for mobile users. The whole world will witness the power of Chinese consumption this November 11," said Daniel Zhang, Alibaba's chief executive officer.

Singles Day was created in the 1990s as a way to celebrate single life—the 11.11 date represents solitary figures—but Alibaba became the first major company to monetize the holiday, launching a special online sale in 2009 that effectively transformed the day into a shopping phenomenon. It's one that reflects the growing wealth of China's middle class.

"At each 11.11, Alibaba's infrastructure is put to the test and our technological capabilities are taken to the next level," said Zhang. "Last year, we handled a record-breaking 80,000 orders at peak per second at peak. This year, we expect to handle 120,000 orders and 60,000 payments at peak per second. It will be a proud achievement for us."

It's not just Alibaba that is expected to reap the benefit of Singles Day; e-commerce competitors such as JD.com have also launched their own 11.11 sales events in recent years.

Haoyu Shen, CEO of JD.com's business-to-consumer group JD Mall, told CNBC on Wednesday that categories including consumer electronics, apparel and baby products were some of the most popular this year.

While he was unable to provide early sales numbers, he said the company was seeing a very strong performance compared to last year.