Alibaba Singles Day: China's online shopping holiday that dwarfs Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The World’s Biggest Online-Shopping Holiday Is Underway, and You’ve Probably Never Heard of It

The World’s Biggest Online-Shopping Holiday Is Underway, and You’ve Probably Never Heard of It

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 10 2014 12:52 PM

The World’s Biggest Online-Shopping Holiday Is Underway, and You’ve Probably Never Heard of It

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Good luck.

Screenshot from AliExpress.com

Over in China it's already Tuesday, which means that the biggest online-shopping holiday in the world has started. It's called Singles Day—as in, the opposite of Valentine's Day—and it generates more e-commerce sales than the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Singles Day was started in the early 1990s by students at Nanjing University who wanted to celebrate their single status. The date, Nov. 11, was christened "bachelors' day" for the four "singles" (i.e., 11/11) it contains. It remained something of a niche holiday until e-commerce giant Alibaba took note in 2009 and rebranded Singles Day as a huge online sales event with steep discounts. Since then, Alibaba's business on Singles Day has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2013, Alibaba did $5.8 billion worth of transactions on Singles Day; this year, it's expected to top $8 billion. Cyber Monday, by comparison, accounted for just $1.7 billion in sales last year.

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The craziest thing about Singles Day is that its huge sales so far have been almost entirely driven by Chinese shoppers. What Alibaba is looking to do now is grow Singles Day from a Chinese phenomenon to a global one—an expansion that's all the more important after Alibaba debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in mid-September. That IPO rang in as the biggest ever in the U.S. and investors across the world are watching closely to see if Alibaba can maintain its breakneck pace of sales growth.

For this year's event, Alibaba has invited Tmall Global and AliExpress merchants—two platforms that work with businesses and users outside of China—to get in on the promotions. A banner atop the AliExpress homepage features a countdown to the "11.11 Shopping Festival." For those who aren't familiar with AliExpress, it's a gigantic, bizarre, and scam-ridden marketplace that sells everything from $40 mattresses to fruit-themed flash drives.

Companies including Tesla Motors and Zara are also taking part for the first time, according to Businessweek, but where's the fun in that? The hourlong "flash deals" for Singles Day on AliExpress include a casual men's hoodie for $0.11 (discount: 99 percent; quantity available: 100), a vintage quartz watch with leather strap for $0.17 (discount: 99 percent; quantity available: 50), and a high carbon steel fishing hook set for $4.60 (discount: 92 percent; quantity available: unclear). Who can say what other discounted wonders lurk on AliExpress? Happy Singles Day hunting!

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.