China online shopping holiday

Lei Shujie, a designer in Shanghai, piled up a wish list for the quirky holiday dubbed "Singles Day'' that has grown into China's _ and possibly the world's _ busiest online shopping day.

Clothes, a pillow, a cabinet to give a friend _ Lei put off buying until Sunday, when retailers promised discounts of up to 70 percent. "The prices are irresistible,'' she said.

Singles Day was begun by Chinese college students in the 1990s as a version of Valentine's Day for people without romantic partners. The timing was based on the date: Nov. 11, or "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.

That gift-giving helped to turn it into a major shopping event as sellers of everything from jewelry to TVs to cars saw a marketing opportunity and launched Singles Day sales. It is China's answer to Cyber Monday in the United States _ the day after Thanksgiving weekend, when online Christmas shopping begins and merchants have their busiest sales day.

Companies that rushed to cash in on the holiday ranged from Alibaba Group, operator of China's biggest e-commerce platforms, to rival platforms such as 360buy Ltd., mom-and-pop companies that sell online and delivery services.

"This is very, very big for us,'' Steve Wang, vice president of Tmall.com and head of website operations, said in a phone interview before sales started.

The 50,000-plus merchants on Alibaba's consumer-oriented Taobao and Tmall.com platforms, took in a total of 19.1 billion yuan ($3 billion) from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday, the company announced early Monday.

That would top the total of $1.25 billion that research firm comScore said U.S. online retailers took in last year on Cyber Monday and might make Singles Day the biggest e-commerce sales day on record.

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