Business, Finance & Economics

China's online shoppers just smashed the single-day world record for sales

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Crewmembers deal with express packages on an assembly line on Nov.12, 2014 in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province of China. Online shopping websites offer massive discounts on Singles' Day (November 11), which brings huge pressure to China's express delivery business.

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ChinaFotoPress

China's annual "Singles' Day" started out as an occasion to celebrate the power of one: in particular, one man, no wife.

The story goes that in 1993 students at Nanjing University hatched the 11/11 custom, also known as Bachelors' Day, "as an answer to Valentine’s Day, [when] unattached singles could buy things for themselves," the FT writes. Some say college students created the holiday to cheer up their lonely, unattached friends; others paint it more as a celebration of singledom, a fairly new concept in China. That "1-1-1-1" makes you think of singles, right? That's on purpose. (Unmarried men in China are less flatteringly known as "bare branches" who probably won't bear fruit.)

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Whatever the intent, Singles' Day for many is more like so-done-with-being-single day. One Beijing dating consultant described to Time last year that many men coming to her for help were setting Nov. 11 as their deadline to find love. "Rather than seeing it as a way of celebrating single-hood, they see it as an end date,” Yue Xu said.

Thousands attend a Singles' Day matchmaking fair for government employees in Beijing in 2011.

The romantic fixation makes Singles' Day a matchmaking opportunity, especially for a population heavy on eligible bachelors. But above all, it's a sales bonanza.

The massive e-commerce site Alibaba turned Singles' Day into a revenue firehose in 2009, branding 11/11 a day for frenzied bargain-shopping much like Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US. Just a few years later, Nov. 11 had become the world's biggest shopping day.

And Nov. 11, 2015 is set to be the biggest one yet. Only 90 minutes into the event on Wednesday, Alibaba had already racked up $5 billion in online sales, about double what it made in the same amount of time in 2014. Twelve hours in, the sales giant had surpassed its 2014 record.

"It's literally a 24-hour orgy of consumption," Michael Zakkour, vice president of China/Asia Pacific Practice at consulting firm Tompkins International, told USA Today.

That's great news for Alibaba. Shoppers (single or otherwise) are happy, if only for a day. But pity the delivery guy.

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