E-commerce giant Alibaba has beaten its sales record for its annual Singles Day event. The company said sales this year had reached 121bn yuan ($18bn; £14bn), a rise of 32% on last year’s sales which were worth $14.3bn. But some have questioned the accuracy of the numbers, amid claims of inflated sales data at Chinese online retailers. Merchants passing off counterfeit goods as genuine is also a problem in the industry. Alibaba reported 82% of purchases had been made on mobile phones during Singles Day.
The company has also been experimenting with new technology including augmented reality and virtual reality to give shoppers other ways of buying items. And the event had a blistering start with sales hitting $5bn (£4bn) in the first hour, Alibaba said, though that total included pre-orders made by customers who could “lock in” prices. It took 90 minutes to hit that milestone in 2015. Singles Day is held every year on 11 November. The day is also referred to as Double Eleven because of its date.
Originally claimed as a celebration for China’s young singletons, Alibaba turned it into a shopping bonanza in 2009. While Alibaba is undeniably the driving force behind the event, other retailers have also started to piggyback off the idea, including extending the concept to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Alibaba’s rival JD.com, which focuses more on electronics, reported receiving more orders in the first nine hours of trading on Friday than it had done during the whole of Singles Day 2014.
It said sales passed last year’s Singles Day total in the early afternoon, but gave no figures.
Patty Cao, an analyst at Aberdeen Asset Management, said that the pace of Alibaba sales “show that Singles Day might be the ultimate symbol of how the Chinese economy is changing”.
She said: “Alibaba is a bit of a bellwether for the country’s consumer… China is trying shift the economy away from a reliance on investment and manufacturing towards one driven by consumer spending and services.
“It’s not been plain sailing. Growth has taken a significant hit. So events like Singles Day are important indicators to feel the pulse of China’s economy.”