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Single’s Day is “an airplane flying at turbo speed”

While much of the Western world was occupied with Remembrance Sunday and Veteran’s Day, a very different sort of event was happening online in the East.

November 11 is the appointed date of ‘Single’s Day’, an annual shopping frenzy – indeed, the biggest shopping event on the planet – organised by ecommerce giant, Alibaba Group. The Group once again posted record sales, after 24 hours which saw goods worth 268 billion yuan ($38.4 billion) sold across its online trading platforms. This massively exceeded last year’s former record of £30.7 billion.

The first $1 billion in sales was achieved in just 68 seconds and the first $10 billion in half an hour. Major brands, including Apple, L’Oreal and Dyson, received more than 100 million yuan, or $14 million, in pre-orders, whilst publicity was taken care of by celebrities including Taylor Swift and Asian pop icon GEM. Hangzhou-headquartered Alibaba offered live-streaming via its platform which gained a lot of traction in China.

Electronics and fashion were the most in demand category in what was the 11th edition of the event. More than half a billion shoppers got involved in China’s equivalent of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and easily dwarfed the Western events. Black Friday – a five-day long happening – racked up less than £25 billion last year and Cyber Monday less than $8 billion.

Alibaba operated the event via several websites targeting different consumer groups. AliExpress sells articles from Chinese brands to international residents; Tmall sells items from global brands to China; and Taobao sells Chinese brands’ to people in China. Lazada, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group serving Southeast Asian markets, saw the number of buyers and merchants double this year. In a live-streamed video, Kim Kardashian announced that her KKW fragrance would be sold on Tmall for Singles’ Day.

Alibaba Group founder, Jack Ma, retired earlier this year and was absent from the proceedings, in contrast with his big speeches in previous years. The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Jeff Zhang, described 11.11 as an “airplane flying at turbo speed,” and said efficiency is now the company’s biggest focus. Improvements will be made to the logistics network, which is still a laggard with a additional $3.3 billion investment.

The biggest challenge for Alibaba remains the expansion of rival ecommerce platforms, JD.com and Pinduoduo, which are stronger and better organised in smaller cities and towns. The three trading giants are locked in a strong competition for customers and all host similar campaigns. JD.com’s sales started on November 1 and have reached around $25 billion by now. Amazon and Walmart -owned Flipkart in India, Qoo10 in Singapore and 11th Street in South Korea also have similar sales models.