China's biggest e-commerce firm breaks sales record on 'Singles Day'

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

SHANGHAI — Transactions on Alibaba websites topped 35 billion yuan ($5.75 billion) on Sunday, surpassing last year's single-day sales of 19.1 billion yuan on China's biggest online shopping day.

Alibaba's two main platforms, Taobao and Tmall, broke last year's sales in the first 13 hours, China's largest e-commerce company said on Twitter. Sunday was China's Singles' Day, a local twist on Valentine's Day, and e-commerce firms marked the occasion by flooding the Internet with promotions.

Starting at midnight, Tmall's vendors began cutting prices by 50 percent or more on selected products from 20,000 Chinese and international merchants, including Gap Inc. and Steven Madden Ltd.

Surging Internet purchases show Chinese demand is shifting away from bricks-and-mortar outlets. The percentage of retail sales made online last year jumped to 6.3 percent from 4.3 percent a year earlier, according to Bloomberg Industries.

U.S. consumers last year spent $1.46 billion on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, when e-retailers offer big promotions.

'Singles' Day' was invented by students in the 1990s, according to the Communist Party-owned People's Daily, which said the date (11-11) is reminiscent of the Chinese phrase — "bare branches — for bachelors and spinsters."

Alibaba's Tmall site began marketing the day as its biggest sales event in 2009. Rivals jumped on board, and the day turned from an opportunity to seek out a partner, or celebrate singledom, into an online shopping bonanza.

Smaller rival 360buy Jingdong began offering half- price Pampers diapers from Nov. 1 and pledged to slice as much as 70 percent off items including slimming belts and facial moisturizers, according to its website. Suning Commerce Group, an Internet retailer that started out selling electrical appliances, has been running ads for online sales beginning Nov. 8 with the slogan: "Four days, four nights, shop nonstop."

Singles' Day bargain hunters were also able stock up on cut-price American Standard toilets, crystal chandeliers, ducks' tongues, French wines and pineapple cookies.

Alibaba, valued by some analysts at as much as $190 billion, may be headed for the biggest initial public offering since Facebook.