A Mount Everest of bras

Alibaba sees online sales surge 83% during Singles Day bonanza


15 Nov 2013
Week in China

What a rollercoaster day! As far as online purchases go, Monday was spectacular. Top of the tree was a Ms Huang from Zhejiang province, who spent Rmb20 million ($3.23 million) on a 13.33 carat diamond ring called ‘the Big Dipper’. Huang’s was the single-largest purchase on Singles Day, the yearly shopping frenzy online.

The main lure? Deep discounts. Had Huang tried to buy the Big Dipper on any other day of the year it would have cost her double.

Singles Day – “bare sticks day” as it’s literally translated in Chinese – started out in the early 1990s as a sort of a Valentine’s Day for the unattached. November 11 was chosen because written numerically the date looks like four solitary twigs (11.11). Originally it was intended to make singletons feel better, providing a chance, through special events, to find a partner themselves.

That changed in 2009 when Alibaba started offering huge bargains on the same day, transforming it into a massive shopping fiesta.

Forget about finding true love, the new goal is grabbing the deepest discount possible. And this year was no exception with shopping platforms Tmall and Taobao – both owned by Alibaba – reporting 402 million unique visitors between them (more than a sixth of the population if each shopper visited both sites). Sales were huge too: Rmb35.1 billion over the 24 hours.

Popular purchases included mobile phones and cosmetics. But far and away the highest volume items were bras and knickers (hopeful singletons wanting to look their best, perhaps). In one of the most pointless factoids of the day, Alibaba calculated that the 1.6 million bras bought by midday on Monday would pile up three times higher than Mount Everest. And that if the 2 million pairs of knickers were laid out, the line would stretch from Beijing to Ulan Bator and back again.

Forget about finding true love, the new goal is grabbing the deepest discount possible

Perhaps they could test that out, and get back to us.

Sales figures were up 83% on the year before to a total
three times that of last year’s Cyber Monday, America’s equivalent event.

Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder and chairman, was nonchalant about the numbers. “Rmb35 billion is no big surprise,” he told reporters. “We can get it up to Rmb100 billion in the next few years if we want to.”

Outlets traditionally offer 50% discounts or more on Singles Day and many shoppers stay up the previous night so that they can make their pre-selected purchases the second the clock ticks past midnight.

Although Tmall and Taobao had predicted the rapid increase in purchases this year, their preparations still came up short. Volumes were too high for their payment systems and many customers had to put up with a system-generated cartoon of a sweating shopkeeper as they waited for their transaction to move through the payment queue.

Singles Day this year also saw more people than ever purchasing via their smartphones – at least Rmb11 billion of business, according to Alibaba. The biggest spenders were in Zhejiang province, home to Ms Huang, Guangdong and Jiangsu, reported the Hangzhou-based company.

Other e-commerce sites are yet to release their full sales figures but Suning, 360Buy, Dangdang and Amazon’s Chinese website all ran their own campaigns on the same day. That meant the busiest day of the year for courier services like SF Express (see WiC214), with such firms making at least 180 million deliveries from Monday’s purchases, reckons the State Post Bureau. Alibaba said that each of the 13 largest delivery firms had spent at least Rmb1 billion to upgrade their infrastructure ahead of the event, incorporating at least 150 new warehouses.

One item that wasn’t dispatched instantly by mail, however, was Ms Huang’s Big Dipper. The Global Times says Huang paid a Rmb5 million deposit for her diamond, and will pay the remainder after inspecting it for quality.

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