Chinese online-retail company Alibaba Group reported record sales over the course of 12 hours on Wednesday as people across China logged on to commemorate Singles Day, an event described as the largest online-shopping event in the world.
The BBC reported that $1 billion in sales came in the first eight minutes of the day, and that sales exceeded last year’s total $9.3 billion in just half the time.
What began in the early 1990s as an annual celebration of China’s bachelors is now synonymous with retail therapy in the world’s most populous country. In 2009, Alibaba used its online store TMall to reinvent the day as China’s answer to Black Friday or Cyber Monday — the days flanking the weekend after Thanksgiving, when stores across the U.S. and other Western countries use hefty discounts to lure massive waves of shoppers. Following their lead, Alibaba and other online retailers now enjoy hundreds of millions of Chinese customers every year on Nov. 11. The typical Chinese consumer will spend $277 per person, a figure that climbs about 22% every year, Bloomberg reported.
Last year, Singles Day became the world’s most profitable sales holiday, Forbes reported. In the U.S., sales during last year’s Thanksgiving frenzy were greater, at $50.9 billion — but that sum was taken over the four-day long weekend, in comparison to the single day of the Chinese event. Black Friday spending was also down 11% from the year before.
The nearest U.S. equivalent to Singles Day is Cyber Monday, with sales of $1.35 billion, according to the BBC, which cited data from analytics firm ComScore.
Alibaba held a gala at the Beijing National Aquatics Center to commemorate the event. Foreign guests included actors Daniel Craig and, via video, Kevin Spacey — in character as Frank Underwood from House of Cards. House of Cards’ sizable Chinese audience includes Wang Qishan, the head of the country’s main antigraft agency, which under the direction of President Xi Jinping has sought to purge corruption from the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party.
“If this Singles Day is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to spoil yourself with a little online shopping, then I must say I’m more than a little jealous,” Spacey/Underwood tells his audience from behind his desk. “Here in the White House, there are so many firewalls blocking me from shopping online that not even the President will be able to take advantage of those amazing deals you’ll see online this holiday.”