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Mainland Chinese online shoppers spend billions on Singles’ Day

The country’s biggest e-commerce brand, Alibaba Group, said sales by the thousands of retailers on its platforms passed 91.2 billion yuan (US$13.4 billion) in the first 15 hours of the event. That is four times the US$3 billion research firm comScore says Americans spent in total last year on Cyber Monday, the country’s biggest online shopping day.

Rivals including JD.com, VIP.com and Suning offered deep discounts on clothing, smartphones, travel packages and other goods to attract shoppers.

JD.com, the country’s biggest online direct retailer and Alibaba’s top rival, said it tested delivery by drone to customers in four rural areas in what the company believed to be the first commercial use of such service. The company said its sales passed last year’s Singles Day total at 1:33 p.m. but gave no financial amount.

Singles Day was begun by Chinese college students in the 1990s as a version of Valentine’s Day for people without romantic partners.

The Nov. 11 date was picked to be “11.11” — four singles. Young people would treat each other to dinner or give gifts to woo that special someone and end their single status.

The spending gives a boost to the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to nurture consumer-based economic growth and reduce reliance on trade and investment.

E-commerce sales in China rose by 26.1 percent in the first nine months of the year. Economic growth for that period held steady at 6.7 percent, but that was its lowest level since the 2008 global crisis.