Alibaba Breaks Singles Day Record, But Economy Is Slowing

A recently invented Chinese holiday, Singles Day, posted $1 billion in sales in 85 seconds on November 11, with a gala kickoff event headlined by singer Mariah Carey, model Miranda Kerr and basketball star Allen Iverson. For the holiday, the equivalent to our Black Friday, sales rose 27 percent, nonetheless the slowest annual increase in its 10 year history (last year sales rose 39 percent). Alibaba shares doubled in 2017 but this year are down 16 percent, the result of a slowing economy and U.S. trade tariffs.

Variety reports that Singles Day 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.” Alibaba’s rival JD.com and retailer Suning also had sales on November 11, with the former reaping $23 billion in sales.

The gala opening event, held to “stir up a buying frenzy for the next day,” also included Cirque du Soleil performers, “a plus-sized Japanese Beyoncé impersonator, the comedian Naomi Watanabe.” This year’s Singles Day was the last led by Alibaba founder Jack Ma who said he will “step down from his role as the company’s chairman next year.”

The New York Times reports that, “at the stroke of midnight on Monday, Alibaba said it had racked up $30.8 billion in sales the day before, as measured by its own homegrown metric, gross merchandise value.” That number exceeded last year’s $25.3 billion even though, “all around China, gloom and uncertainty are the word.” For the fiscal year ending in March, Alibaba lowered its sales forecast five percent. Company executive vice chair Joseph Tsai said, however, “that Alibaba should be understood in the context of the epochal rise of China’s middle class,” an unstoppable trend “trade war or no trade war.”

From the point of view of ambition, says NYT, “Alibaba may be Amazon’s only global equal.” Like Amazon, Alibaba uses its “lakes of commercial data” to anticipate what customers and retailers want; it also produces movies, owns supermarkets, rents servers and is making its own computer chips. But Alibaba has also come under the scrutiny of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for how it reports Singles Day sales, with “no standardized way of calculating it.”

Wall Street analysts have “grown skeptical in the meantime of the costs of expanding into new areas,” with the company’s shares losing “nearly one-third” of their value since June. But some still stand by the company. “I’m not worried about Alibaba at all,” said Pacific Epoch analyst Steven Zhu in Shanghai. “These guys are really good at creating things from nothing.”

Related:
We Went to Alibaba’s 24-Hour Shopping Extravaganza That Is Like Nothing in America, Featuring a Mariah Carey Performance and an Online-Shopping-Themed Cirque du Soleil Act. Here’s What It Reveals About the Future of Retail, Business Insider, 11/12/18