The holiday, held on November11, began two decades ago, to cock a snook at Valentine’s Day. It was designed to celebrate being single.
The Chinese believe the date 1111 is significant because it looks like four single people in a row.
It was a novelty until e-commerce giant Alibaba, in a stroke of marketing genius, turned it into a sales event and since then it has become a huge online consumer frenzy.
Apparently retail therapy is how the single life is celebrated.
Back in 2009, what is probably the world’s biggest online market launched a massive campaign called Shuang Shiyi (Double Eleven), a phrase they’ve now patented. The timing was right as e-commerce was gaining traction in China.
According to Chinese media, it began with items geared towards single people like boyfriend body pillows, but now spans everything from coffee and toilet paper to luxury cars and furniture.
Last year 10 000 merchants sold their goods to millions of shoppers in China, with Alibaba promising orders would be delivered within two hours. Apple, Guerlain, Maserati and Target were invited to do business for the first time on Alibaba’s online store, Tmall, along with Costco, Macy’s and Starbucks.
China loves the idea and the sheer volume of sales backs it up. Sales have increased rapidly every year, with Alibaba cashing in $9.3 billion in 2014 which increased by 60% in 2015 to a whopping $14.3bn (R206bn).
Last year’s sales totalled $17.8bn - $11.07bn more than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Business Insider reported that the profits of China’s Singles’ Day were combined that of mega online sale days - Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Super Bowl.
One Chinese news site boasted that these figures exceeded “the annual revenues of some multinational companies and even the GDP of some countries”.
To kick off the world’s biggest fashion and gift-buying extravaganza, Alibaba splurges on a huge bash, similar to the American Super Bowl, in Beijing and smaller parties in other Chinese cities.
Footballer David Beckham and his fashion designer wife Victoria, James Bond actor Daniel Craig, American singer and songwriter Adam Lambert and pop band OneRepublic have all been invited guests in the past.
Founder of the Alibaba Group, billionaire Jack Ma, also makes an appearance and performs a magic trick.
The 24-hour bonanza culminates in a dramatic countdown to midnight, with a two-storey screen lighting up with real-time sales numbers.
Singles Day success has led to another shopping festival next month, called Shuang Shier, on December 12. But the sales are on a much smaller scale.
The Financial Times called Singles Day a Chinese e-commerce phenomenon fed by the country’s consumer revolution.
It has led political analysts to curiously ponder how all this spending ties in with China’s ruling party’s ideology of “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era”.
Peters is the live editor of Weekend Argus. She is on a 10-month scholarship with the China Africa Press Centre. Instagram: mels_chinese_takeout