Chinese shoppers snapped up a record $30.7 billion of merchandise Sunday through e-commerce giant Alibaba, in celebration of a recently invented holiday called Singles Day, China’s equivalent of the U.S.’ Black Friday. Western celebrities including singer Mariah Carey and model Miranda Kerr were on hand to encourage the orgy of online consumerism.
Sales hit $1 billion in a blistering 85 seconds, and rose 27% overall this year. Yet as China grapples with a slowdown in its economy and a trade war with the U.S., the growth figure marked the slowest annual increase in the event’s 10-year history, down from 39% last year.
Alibaba’s New York-traded shares doubled in 2017, but this year are down 16%. Pre-opening Monday, the shares were largely unchanged.
The made-up holiday began as an unofficial day for singletons because its Nov. 11 date was playfully deemed a reference to “bare branches,” a colloquial Chinese term for bachelors. Written in Chinese, “11-11” looks like a parade of four bare tree limbs. Alibaba co-opted the day a decade ago and expanded it into what is now the world’s biggest online retail event, with sales this year surpassing the combined totals of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. Other Chinese firms, including online rival JD.com and retailer Suning, now also have Nov. 11 sales, with JD pulling in its own record of nearly $23 billion in sales Sunday.
Alibaba has pushed to make the lead-up to the day a media event in its own right. This year it used its online video platform Youku to stream a celebrity-studded gala Saturday night to stir up a buying frenzy for the next day.
Carey sang her songs “Emotions” and “Hero” before chatting awkwardly with the host about her online shopping habits, while Kerr plugged her skincare line before attempting to sing a few bars of a popular Chinese song. Cirque du Soleil performers did a shopping-themed number. Beyonce may not have been available, so Alibaba made do with a plus-sized Japanese Beyonce impersonator, the comedian Naomi Watanabe, who strutted her stuff in a fringed gold leotard and flowing blonde tresses, while belting out a plausible rendition of “Crazy in Love.”
This year marks the last Singles Day led by Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and leading light. Ma announced in September that he would step down from his role as the company’s chairman next year.