It began seven years ago as a modest promotion involving 27 merchants but Alibaba’s annual Singles Day has mushroomed into a shopping frenzy like no other.
Now marketed as “2016.11.11. Global Shopping Festival”, the American singer Katy Perry, German footballer Thomas Müller and boy band One Direction have been lined up as the main attractions at the “countdown gala” in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong on Thursday.
The bonanza last year, headlined by Daniel Craig, generated about $14.3 billion in sales, outstripping the combined online sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US.
David Hill, an American TV director who has hosted live events from the Oscars to American Idol, will persuade millions of avid Chinese buyers and mobile phone users to enter contests for prizes including the clothes off celebrities’ backs.
Liu Xiaoyi, a Beijing magazine editor, said there were pragmatic reasons for taking part but conceded that previously she had always bought a lot, including items she did not need. “The reason that I choose to buy on Singles Day is because there are discounts and I was planning to buy these products,” she said. The atmosphere makes people very nervous, and afraid that they may miss something worth buying.”
Such marketing success has driven the continued growth of Alibaba, the internet giant founded by Jack Ma, below. Third-quarter results last week showed revenue up 55 per cent year on year.
This year’s Singles Day is being stretched to 24 days, which runs the risk of making it seem quite routine.
The company piggy-backed on an existing concept, a kind of anti-Valentine’s Day, which fixed on November 11 because of its lonely line of four single digits. It was popularised by bachelors, whose Chinese name gave the day its other title, the “bare sticks” day, but these days everyone joins in.