Alibaba set another Singles Day record this year on 11/11/19, recording $38.4 billion in gross merchandise value (GMV) during the 24-hour promotion created as a reverse spin on Valentine’s Day 10 years ago, up 25% from last year.
By comparison, Adobe is forecasting $29 billion in total ecommerce sales for Cyber Weekend, from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.
Despite setting records each year, the rate of Singles Day growth is slowing. Last year’s more than $30.8 billion in GMV represented a 27% increase over 2017’s total of $25.3 billion. That figure was in turn a 39% increase over $17.8 billion in 2016.
As always, Singles Day came roaring out of the box, hitting the first $1 billion in sales in the first 68 seconds as shoppers smashed through the virtual doors looking to snag early deals. In the first hour, the total hit $13 billion. For some perspective, that’s nearly double the estimated haul of $7.16 billion during Amazon’s Prime Day on July 15 and 16, according to Internet Retailer. In fact, the New York Times said Singles Day made Prime Day “look, yet again, like a yard sale.”
Just as Singles Day has become a phenomenon in which Amazon competitors and retailers in general ride the cresting wave, Alibaba’s main competitor JD.com raked in more than $30 billion this Singles Day, according to CTV News.
Controversy surrounds the reporting of Singles Day results. The media generally reports the total as sales, but Alibaba is actually reporting the GMV of items that are deeply discounted. The unknown difference between GMV and the value of total sales in dollars or yuan comes under fire perennially from critics.
Writing in The Washington Post, Tim Culpan of Bloomberg calls GMV meaningless. “There are ways to juice the figure, and it has almost zero correlation with Alibaba’s revenue or profit,” he said.
Despite the concerns, the popularity of Singles Day as a global ecommerce phenomenon is growing. CNBC reports Alibaba saying it had more than 200,000 participating brands in 2019, a 233% increase from 60,000 just two years ago. The event launched in 2009 with just 27 participating brands.
Increasingly global and U.S. brands are participating in Singles Day. CNBC named Apple and Estee Lauder among participants this year. The lavish Singles Day live kickoff events feature U.S. celebrities and musicians, with a performance this year by Taylor Swift.
In its Singles Day forecast, based on a survey of Chinese consumers, management consulting firm AlixPartners said respondents generally planned to spend more this year. However, 8% said they would not participate in Singles Day, compared to just 1% in 2018.
While fears about a slowing Chinese economy, tariffs and a U.S.-China trade war did not seem to impact the Singles Day GMV total, AlixPartners said 48% of its survey respondents had concerns about the longer wait for deliveries on purchases.
“I feel like the difference [in price] is not that big, and since everyone’s buying all at once, the logistics and delivery are slower,” Chinese worker Yang Wei told the Associated Press. “I think that it’s actually better for me to buy when not everyone’s buying.”
“We continue to feel very confident about the growth potential of the economy,” Alibaba chief marketing officer Chris Tung told CNN.
Singles Day is held each year on 11/11 because the date represents four single digits.