Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, just worked some major
magic: Its payment service, Alipay, logged $5.7 billion in sales in
a single day on China's annual Nov. 11 online shopping bonanza.
That's a record-breaking figure -- up 83% from last year. And
it's almost three times the sales of 2012's Cyber Monday.
So how did the event known as 11/11 get so huge, so fast?
With the event in its fifth year, more brands and merchants
flocked to Alibaba's online sales platforms, Tmall (an online
shopping mall) and Taobao (similar to eBay). About 20,000 merchants
took part, double last year's figure, including international
brands like Nike and the Gap.
Alibaba's Tmall drives the spending on 11/11, China's e-commerce holiday
Alibaba launched TV commercials, outdoor ads and social media
promotions before this 11/11, though not more than in the past. But
since individual brands also publicized the event, the big increase
in participants meant more buzz.
Many brands encouraged shoppers to put items in their shopping
baskets early to allow for quick checkout Monday at midnight, which
also juiced the anticipation.
"Every year on 11/11 we have a lot of users who never shopped
online before -- they hear about the event, and because prices are
lower and there's a massive selection of products, they give it a
go," Alibaba spokeswoman Florence Shih said.
Over 24 hours there were 402 million unique visitors to the
platforms – "or about two-thirds the entire online population
in China," as Ms. Shih put it. Out of China's total population of
1.3 billion, 591 million have internet access, the China Internet
Network Information Center says.
Transactions on mobile devices increased more than 5 times this
11/11 to $877 million. In some regions, Alibaba offered free data
to customers so they wouldn't exceed their mobile limit while
shopping. Strikingly, mobile sales were 21% of the number of
Alibaba, which is preparing to go public, has "put lot of effort
into building mobile platforms" and ensuring they are easy to use,
said Ying Mu, corporate-branding manager for China-based
consultancy Labbrand. "If you look at people in the
second-, third- or fourth-tier cities, maybe they don't have
internet in their homes, so their internet portal is their mobile
phone," she said.
Clothing and accessories are traditionally the biggest sellers
online in China. But this year two breakout stars were upstart
local mobile phone maker Xiaomi and Chinese appliance company
Haier, Ms. Mu said.
Hugo Barra, a former Google Android executive who
recently caused a stir by decamping to Xiaomi, tweeted that the
company sold 380,000 devices totalling $82 million in a few
China's biggest e-commerce event started out in 2009 with just
27 brands. It was originally called Singles Day, as it coincided
with an anti-Valentine's Day celebration created by university
Other e-commerce platforms have joined in, including Jingdong
and Yihaodian, which is majority-owned by Walmart. No total sales
figure for all retailers was available, but Alibaba's platforms
account for the biggest share.