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Alibaba's Singles Day lures more global brands, amassing billions in sales

  • Alibaba's Singles Day last year grossed $17.8 billion in sales, up from $14.3 billion in 2015.
  • This year, apparel is the most sought-after Singles Day category, followed by household supplies and footwear, according to a survey by Fung Global Retail & Technology.
  • Global brands such as Lululemon, Gap, Nike and Mac Cosmetics are all set to participate.
Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang.
Source: Alibaba Group
Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang.

For Alibaba, the future is retail. And a lot of it.

This Saturday, the Chinese e-commerce giant will hold its annual Singles Day event, which last year grossed a whopping $17.8 billion in sales, up from $14.3 billion in 2015.

To put those sales figures into perspective, Singles Day has surpassed the transaction volume for America's Black Friday and Cyber Monday events combined, according to Fung Global Retail & Technology.

The day also far outpaces Amazon's Prime Day, which is the most equivalent 24-hour, online shopping experience in the U.S.

Held every Nov. 11, Alibaba's Singles Day started as a day for those individuals not in romantic relationships to celebrate themselves by shopping online. The 24-hour phenomenon has quickly become the world's largest shopping day of the year.

In 2017, Singles Day is expected to break more records, as more than 60,000 global brands are set to participate.

Names like Lululemon, Adidas, Bose, Gap, Mac Cosmetics, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Macy's and Zara all have a presence on Alibaba's Tmall platform, which continues to grow. Tmall is essentially Alibaba's online version of a shopping mall. Alibaba is also in the midst of constructing its first physical mall, right next to its corporate headquarters in eastern China.

This year, apparel is the most sought-after Singles Day category, followed by household supplies and footwear, according to a survey by Fung Global. And just like shoppers get a jump-start on some Black Friday bargains in the U.S., roughly two-thirds of Fung Global's survey respondents indicate they will start shopping for Singles Day prior to Nov. 11.

"The extension of the Singles' Day event is similar to what has been happening in the US, where the influence of one-day shopping holidays is diminishing as retailers adopt a season-long approach to marketing and promotions," FGRT Managing Director Deborah Weinswig wrote.

Although, Weinswig added: "While Western shopping holidays such as Prime Day and Black Friday tend to focus on discounts, Alibaba takes an entertainment-centric approach to its 11.11 festival marketing and promotions in order to engage Chinese consumers."

Alibaba, founded by Jack Ma, has benefited in large part due to China's growing internet population and its underdeveloped brick-and-mortar retail composition. Many of the stores in rural areas throughout the country, for example, aren't big-name brands, but mom-and-pop shops. And Alibaba wants to change that.

On Singles Day this year, Alibaba will incorporate physical retailers into the event — especially in the days leading up to Nov. 11. The e-commerce giant has collaborated with roughly 50 shopping malls in China to set up pop-up shops, which will span 12 cities.

Estee Lauder's makeup brand Mac, for example, has partnered with Alibaba to open a temporary storefront where customers can experience an augmented reality lipstick trial. There, Mac will also be promoting its deals for Singles Day, encouraging shoppers to visit Tmall.com on Saturday.

In total, Alibaba's 2017 Singles Day is promising 15 million product listings from more than 140,000 different brands.

Also leading up to Saturday, Alibaba held a "See Now, Buy Now" fashion show on Halloween, where audience members could shop models' looks immediately from Tmall and other Alibaba-affiliated platforms.

"The value and reach of a customer-engaging fashion show like 'See Now, Buy Now' is far greater for brands than just placing their products at a traditional brick-and-mortar store," Alibaba chief marketing officer Chris Tung said about the event.

During the show, Adidas used 3-D technology to flash images onto models, while watch manufacturer Tag Hauer outfitted dancers in glow-in-the-dark costumes. Gap was another global participant, making its second appearance at "See Now, Buy Now."

On Friday night, Alibaba will hold its famous countdown celebration, which will feature singer Pharrell Williams. Last year's gala drew celebrity attendees such as Kobe Bryant and David Beckham.

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