Singles Day — the frenzied annual celebration of consumption and commerce that is China’s much larger version of Black Friday — began as a protest of sorts against Valentine’s Day, propelled by college students in the 1990s.
The event’s date, written numerically as 11/11, was associated with unattached singles, known as “bare sticks.”
This year’s shopping festival entered new territory, blazing past $1 billion within two minutes of the holiday, starting at midnight on Saturday. By the end of the day, sales had hit a new record of $25.3 billion, more than 40 percent higher than sales on Singles Day 2016.
Singles Day is now inextricably linked with Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce leviathan that in recent years has turned the holiday into an online — and occasionally brick and mortar — mercantile extravaganza. It routinely eclipses Amazon’s yearly Prime Day promotional event.
In July, Prime Day generated an estimated $1 billion in revenue during its 30-hour sale window, resulting in what Amazon called its “biggest day ever.”
The event has evolved into a cultural phenomenon. On Friday night, Alibaba hosted a lavish gala in Shanghai, directed by one of the producers behind the 2016 Academy Awards. Celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Pharrell Williams and Maria Sharapova helped count down the moments before the 60,000 participating global brands released their Singles Day deals to shoppers.
One offer, from the Chongqing-based online alcohol brand Jiang Xiao Bai, allowed 33 fast-moving customers to make a single payment of 11,111 yuan, or $1,673, for a lifetime supply of a grain liquor known as baijiu.
Singles Day, which is largely powered through Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace, was a test of the company’s logistics network. The company promised delivery within an hour for certain products and, in advance of the shopping festival, converted nearly 100,000 stores across China into “smart stores” capable of processing payment using facial recognition and other advanced technologies.