Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Inc (BABA.N) on Monday said sales for its annual Singles' Day shopping blitz hit 158.31 billion yuan ($22.63 billion) in its first nine hours, up 25% from 126.72 billion yuan at the same point last year. Akin to Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, Singles' Day has been promoted as a shopping fest by Alibaba Chairman and Chief Executive Daniel Zhang since 2009, growing rapidly to become the world's biggest online sales event. Also known as "Double Eleven", the festival's name originates from the calendar date Nov. 11, with the four ones of 11/11 signifying being single.
Alibaba netted sales worth $30 billion on its platforms on Singles' Day last year, dwarfing the $7.9 billion US online sales for Cyber Monday. Yet the 27% sales growth was the lowest in the event's 10-year history, spurring a search for fresh ideas. Citic Securities, in a Nov. 9 research note, forecast Singles Day sales to grow 20-25% this year, held back partly by slowing overall e-commerce growth in China.
The Chinese retail juggernaut, with a market value of $486 billion, kicked off this year's 24-hour shopping fest with performances by American pop star Taylor Swift and local celebrities such as Jackson Yee. Sales hit $1 billion in the first minute and eight seconds and reached 84 billion yuan in the first hour, up 22% from last year's early haul of 69 billion yuan. Singles' Day was among the top trending topics on China's Twitter-like Weibo microblogging platform on Monday morning, with users discussing what they spent their money on.
Alibaba has said it expects over 500 million users to participate in the shopping festival this year, about 100 million more than last year. This is the first time Alibaba's Singles' Day does not have flamboyant co-founder Jack Ma at its helm, after he resigned in September as chairman to "start a new life". It also comes at a crucial time for the company, which is looking to raise up to $15 billion via a share sale in Hong Kong this month. Alibaba continues to dominate the online shopping industry, but not without competition. In addition to longtime rival JD.com Inc (JD.O), it also faces competition from Pinduoduo Inc (PDD.O), which surged in popularity in 2017 by targeting consumers in China's lower-tier cities.