by Dan Martin
SHANGHAI, China (AFP) — Chinese customers spent billions of dollars during the opening hours of the country’s annual “Singles’ Day” frenzy Monday, the world’s biggest 24-hour shopping event that was kicked off by US megastar Taylor Swift.
E-commerce giant Alibaba said the first $1 billion spent on its platforms was reached in just 68 seconds.
The total gross merchandise volume settled through its payments platform Alipay hit 100 billion yuan ($14.3 billion) within 63 minutes and 59 seconds — 43 minutes ahead of last year’s pace.
The promotion, now in its 11th year, kicked off early with Chinese bargain-hunters snapping up everything from electronics to clothing and housewares via Alibaba and other competing platforms.
The event is considered a useful annual gauge of consumer sentiment in the world’s second-biggest economy.
China is in the midst of a long-term slowdown, further exacerbated by the trade war with the United States, but retail sales have remained a bright spot.
Singles’ Day, also called “11.11” for the date on which it is held, was originally set aside as an unofficial day for China’s unmarried.
Alibaba kicked off the event with a glitzy gala show in Shanghai, headlined this year by US Grammy-winner star Swift, as it counted down to the start of shopping at midnight.
But Alibaba, based in the eastern city of Hangzhou, latched on to it a decade ago as a shopping promotion akin to the late-November US “Black Friday” retail crush.
Other online platforms and Chinese retailers have tapped in as well.
Capitalizing on the Chinese consumer’s embrace of e-commerce and one-click smartphone payments, it has proven a success, with Alibaba regularly beating its own sales volume mark.
The full 24-hour tally last year was $30.7 billion, another record for Alibaba, but the pace of growth slowed from previous years.
US-listed Alibaba earlier this month said the company’s sales revenue remained robust in the most recent quarter, ending on September 30, but that growth had slowed to 40 percent compared to 54 percent in the same quarter last year.
This year’s Singles’ Day is Alibaba’s first without co-founder Jack Ma.
Ma stepped aside as leader of the Alibaba Group in September after 20 years in which the charismatic former English teacher’s e-commerce company helped unleash the power of Chinese consumer spending.
Today, Alibaba has more than half the domestic e-commerce market and is among the world’s most valuable companies.
The firm is hoping to raise up to $15 billion in a Hong Kong IPO, a report said last week, which would be the city’s biggest listing for nine years.
Environmentalists, however, accuse Alibaba and other e-tailers of fuelling a culture of excessive consumption and adding to a growing national problem of overflowing waste, as 11.11 deliveries create mountains of discarded packaging.
© Agence France-Presse