Alibaba closes in on record sales, Singles’ Day sales pass 2015 total

E-commerce giant Alibaba may smash the sales record for its annual Singles Day event.

About 15 hours into the event, sales had reached 91.2bn yuan ($13.4bn; £10.6bn), the firm said. Last year’s record was $14.3bn.

But some have questioned the accuracy of the numbers, amid claims of inflated sales data at online retailers across China.

Merchants passing off counterfeit goods as genuine is also an industry problem.

Alibaba reported 85% of purchases had been made on mobile phones during Singles Day.

How Alibaba wants to change shopping

Technology shift

The company has also been experimenting with new technology including augmented reality and virtual reality to give shoppers other ways of buying items.

And the event had a blistering start with sales hitting $5bn (£4bn) in the first hour, Alibaba said, though that total included pre-orders made by customers who could “lock in” prices. It took 90 minutes to hit that milestone in 2015

The rise of China’s Singles Day

Singles Day is held every year on 11 November. The day is also referred to as Double Eleven because of its date.

Originally claimed as a celebration for China’s young singletons, Alibaba turned it into a shopping bonanza in 2009.

While Alibaba is undeniably the driving force behind the event, other retailers have also stared to piggyback off the idea, including extending the concept to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Alibaba’s rival, which focuses more on electronics, reported receiving more orders in the first nine hours of trading on Friday than it had done during the whole of Singles Day 2014.

Patty Cao, an analyst at Aberdeen Asset Management, said that the pace of sales “show that Singles Day might be the ultimate symbol of how the Chinese economy is changing”.

She said: “Alibaba is a bit of a bellwether for the country’s consumer… China is trying shift the economy away from a reliance on investment and manufacturing towards one driven by consumer spending and services.

“It’s not been plain sailing. Growth has taken a significant hit. So events like Singles Day are important indicators to feel the pulse of China’s economy.”

Yashan Zhao, BBC Chinese – ‘Unstoppable hands’

Obsessive shoppers have been lamenting for years that they should cut off their “unstoppable hands” because they end up buying far more than they actually need. But this year, they were joining in on the shopping frenzy again.

One Taobao user posted an image of Alibaba founder Jack Ma as a vampire to show his love and hate for the online bonanza.

Lili Lee took advantage of the festival two years ago but ended up being scammed for 13,000 yuan ($1,908; £1,519)- five times her monthly salary.

But this year she is back online and has already spent about 7,000 yuan.

As has now become tradition, Singles Day was kicked off with a televised gala event which this year included a performances by One Republic and appearances by basketball legend Kobe Bryant, English football legend David Beckham and singer-turned designer Victoria Beckham.

But pop star Katy Perry, who had been scheduled to perform, withdrew citing a family emergency.

Analysts have predicted this year’s event could see Alibaba rack up sales of $20bn despite a slowdown in China’s economy, partly due to the event having a broader audience.

“We’re seeing an even bigger shift from offline shopping to online shopping,” Kitty Fok, managing director of IDC China told the BBC.

“And there is also more of a focus on rural areas. People in the villages who could not do online shopping now have mobile phones and so can do that.”

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