5 Facts About the World’s Largest Online Shopping Day

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If there was any doubt that online shopping had finally supplanted shopping in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, that debate was finally laid to rest this November. And the occasion had nothing to do with America’s infamous consumer frenzies known as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the days on which stores and websites, respectively, offer amazing “door buster” bargains shorty after (or, these days, actually on) the Thanksgiving holiday. This one-day explosion of consumption and spending happened weeks before those heady days and many thousands of miles away: it was on “Singles’ Day” in China.

5 What Is Singles’ Day?

Singles’ Day is the modern Chinese anti-Valentine’s Day. It takes place on 11/11 each year, because there are four ones, or “singles,” in that date, and it is, quite simply, a day single people are encouraged to celebrate themselves and their bachelorhood. Much like Valentine’s Day in many Western countries, this “celebration” revolves around consumption, however in the case of Singles’ Day, the goods bought are not gifts for loved ones but gifts for the self. The “holiday” was in fact created by the e-commerce giant Alibaba, which, through its multiple subsidiary sales platforms, offers deals and discounts to lure folks online with their wallets open.

4 More Than 100 Million People Participated

You participate in Singles’ Day by shopping, and that is just what many Chinese did. Experts estimate that more than 100 million people made online purchases during this one-day event. Even in a country of more than 1.35 billion residents, that is still a staggering percentage of the populace (and of course a huge number of shoppers by any metrics); the figure is made even more amazing by the fact that a few short years ago, China was still a largely rural and agrarian society.

3 The Shoppers Spent More Than $5 Billion

Alibaba, the company that created and oversees Singles’ Day, had set a target of 30 billion renminbi (for the record, the renminbi is the official currency of China; the yuan is a unit of the currency, like the dollar, but is often used as shorthand for China’s currency itself). They not only met but surpassed this benchmark with flying colors. We won’t know exactly how much was spent in China on November 11th for some time to come, but by 9 p.m. China Standard Time Alibaba reported it had cleared the 20 billion renmimbi mark with orders still coming in. That means online shoppers spent at least five billion USD, and maybe a good deal more.

2 Singles’ Day Dwarfed U.S. Online Shopping Records

On November 25th, 2012, Americans spent around 1.5 billion dollars online during the e-commerce bonanza that has been branded Cyber Monday, a play on the longer-lived (and oft infamous) Black Friday shopping frenzy. The online spending that day in 2012 was indeed record setting for the U.S. market, and the day saw a significant jump over 2011’s Cyber Monday. Analysts predict that this year, consumers may spend as much as $2.27 billion during America’s biggest online shopping day. But that is still well under half of what Chinese shoppers spent on one day, a holiday that was fabricated a mere half decade ago, no less.

1 Capitalism In China

In shock at the sheer volume of one-day online shoppers and the staggering amount of money spent, one also has to pause and remember the context in which China’s Singles’ Day occurs: China remains, legally and on paper, at least, a communist country. However, during the 1970s, under Deng Xiaoping, the country began to pivot toward a market economy, though hardly an open free market as we know it. Today the central government can still reach out its controlling hand and tinker with the Chinese economy through currency value manipulation, by targeting certain industries and businesses while bolstering others, and so on. When 100 million people spend more than 5 billion USD in one day, though, the Chinese government is content to sit back and remain communist in name only, letting capitalism play out in the real world.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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