Chinese E-Shoppers Spend Billions on Singles Day

Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, at left, and Alibaba Group Chairman Jack Ma, at center, attend an evening gala on the eve of the Singles Day online shopping festival Thursday in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province. Photo: Chinatopix / Associated Press

BEIJING — In a bright spot for China’s cooling economy, online shoppers spent billions of dollars Friday on “Singles Day,” a quirky holiday that has grown into the world’s busiest day for e-commerce.

The country’s biggest e-commerce brand, Alibaba Group, said sales by the thousands of retailers on its platforms passed 62.6 billion yuan (324 billion baht) in the first 10 hours of the day. That is triple the USD$3 billion research firm comScore says Americans spent last year on Cyber Monday, the United States’ biggest online shopping day.

Rivals including, and Suning offered bargains on clothing, smartphones, travel packages and other goods to attract shoppers. said it planned to test delivery by drone to customers in four rural areas in what the company it believed to be the first commercial use of such service.

The spending gives a boost to the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to nurture consumer-based economic growth and reduce reliance on trade and investment.

E-commerce sales in China rose by 26.1 percent in the first nine months of the year. That came as economic growth held steady at 6.7 percent – its lowest level since the 2008 global crisis. Forecasters expect the economy to cool further next year as regulators try to rein in a boom in bank lending and real estate sales that is pushing up debt and housing costs.

Singles Day was begun by Chinese college students in the 1990s as a version of Valentine’s Day for people without romantic partners.

The Nov. 11 date was picked to be “11.11” – four singles. Unattached young people would treat each other to dinner or give gifts to woo that special someone and end their single status.

Alibaba put its marketing muscle behind the event and sellers of everything from jewelry to TVs to cars launched Singles Day sales.

Researchers attribute the rapid rise of Singles Day to demographics and timing.

University graduates who adopted the holiday earn more and shop online. Also, Singles Day comes as people receive monthly paychecks and need to buy winter clothes. Unlike other events such as the Lunar New Year, China’s biggest family holiday, it involves few other expenses such as travel or banquets, leaving more money for gifts.

Story: Joe McDonald