Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Inc said on Monday that sales for its annual Singles’ Day shopping blitz hit 84 billion yuan ($12bn) within the first hour, up 22 percent from last year’s early haul of 69 billion yuan ($9.9bn).
Akin to Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, Singles’ Day has been promoted as a shopping fest by Alibaba Chairman and Chief Executive Daniel Zhang since 2009, growing rapidly to become the world’s biggest online sales event.
Sales hit the one-billion-dollar-mark in the first minute and eight seconds, Alibaba said. Singles’ Day was among the top trending topics on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday morning, with users discussing what they spent on.
Also known as “Double Eleven”, the festival’s name originates from the calendar date 11/11, with the four ones referencing being single.
Alibaba has said it expects over 500 million users to participate in the shopping festival this year, about 100 million more than last year.
The company saw sales worth $30bn on its platforms on Singles’ Day last year, dwarfing $7.9bn US online sales for Cyber Monday. Yet the 27 percent sales growth was the lowest in the event’s 10-year history, spurring a search for fresh ideas.
The $486bn Chinese retail juggernaut kicked off this year’s 24-hour shopping fest with performances by American pop star Taylor Swift and local celebrities like Asian pop icon GEM, televised from Shanghai.
Within the first 90 minutes, the company raked in more than half of last year’s record haul with more than $16.3bn spent by shoppers.
This is the first time Alibaba’s Singles’ Day does not have flamboyant cofounder Jack Ma at its helm, after he resigned in September as chairman.
Current chief Zhang, who pioneered the present form of the show in 2015, passed the baton of the event this year to Jiang Fan, president of e-commerce marketplaces Taobao and Tmall, and a potential successor to Zhang himself.
“Over the years, we’ve seen consumers become more diverse and younger. Each generation of consumers needs their own peers to serve them,” Zhang said in a post on Alibaba’s blog. “I think this young team is the future.”
Single’s Day also comes at a crucial time for the company, which is looking to raise up to $15bn via a share sale in Hong Kong this month, amid anti-government protests in the city and a slowing Chinese economy.
Alibaba continues to dominate the online shopping industry, but not without competition.
In addition to longtime rival JD.com, it now faces competition from upstart Pinduoduo, which surged in popularity in 2017 by aiming at consumers in China’s lower-tier cities.