Singles’ Day turns into busiest online shopping day in the world

Lei Shujie, a designer in Shanghai, piled up a wishlist for Sunday, a 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 per cent. "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 November 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 jewellery 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 are rushing to cash in on the holiday range 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. In the first 13 hours of selling on Sunday, the 50,000-plus merchants on Alibaba's consumer-oriented Tmall.com took in 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion), the company announced on its microblog account.

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

"This is very, very big for us," Steve Wang, vice president of Tmall.com and head of website operations, said in a phone interview. The company said on its website that Sunday might be the "biggest e-shopping orgy ever.''

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