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Alibaba counts down to 'Singles Day,' a blockbuster event for e-commerce.
Alibaba counts down to ‘Singles Day,’ a blockbuster event for e-commerce.

In the U.S., Black Friday and Cyber Monday are held up as two prime examples of America’s wealth. Online sales between Thanksgiving and the following Monday can hit a staggering $3.64 billion.

alibaba 1111 graphicBut that’s nothing compared to what can occur on a global scale.

Today, Alibaba is hosting the 11.11 Shopping Festival, also called Singles Day, and it’s getting unprecedented attention this year following the Chinese e-commerce giant’s blockbuster IPO in the U.S.

The attention is for good reason — the scale of this event is unparalleled to anything we see in America.

alibaba 1111 mobileSince the sale kicked off in China this morning at midnight local time, it took 17 minutes and 58 seconds for Alibaba’s gross merchandise volume to hit $1 billion, according to the company. UPDATE: In a little more than an hour, sales have now exceeded $2 billion, with 45 percent coming from mobile.

This year, the company is expected to record about 50 billion yuan ($8.17 billion), a 40 percent increase from last year, reports CNBC, who quoted Ben Cavender, principal at China Market Research Group. Vanessa Zeng, a Beijing-based Forrester senior analyst for China’s e-commerce sector, was even more bullish, estimating that sales could reach 60 billion yuan ($9.8 billion).

Last year, Alibaba Group’s websites Taobao Marketplace and processed more than $5.8 billion in sales during the 24-hour period, which is roughly one-third more sales volume in a single day than the three biggest U.S. shopping days combined.

Unlike in the U.S., the origins of the day don’t have anything to do with the holidays, but rather is a celebration for people who are single. Typically, on this day, young Chinese people meet up to celebrate the day, and now shop for huge discounts. The day always falls on Nov. 11 (or 11/11) because of the connection with the number “1.”

alibaba blue nileTo drive the point home that this is a very huge event, here’s another estimate to put today’s activities into perspective: More than 500 million parcels will be delivered this week, which is the equivalent of two packages for every person in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most-populous country.

“The UPS guy would have a nervous breakdown,” according to Alibaba, which is probably no exaggeration given last year’s nightmares following a busy holiday shopping season and bad weather.

One way the company hopes to increase sales is by bringing international brands to the party.

Of five examples given by Alibaba, two are from the Seattle area: Costco and Blue Nile.

Blue Nile, the online jewelry, is participating in this year’s sale by offering a range of fine diamond and gems on its Tmall marketplace. Costco is also participating after seeing some success on Tmall after launching officially in October. Within days of going live, Costco sold over three tons of nuts and one ton of dried cranberries to Chinese consumers, according to Alibaba.

costco in chinaThis year, it’s not only international brands that are participating.

Alibaba is targeting shoppers in about 200 countries and regions, who are being offered deals on over one million products from Chinese and international retailers. The sales are taking place on both Alibaba’s and Taobao Marketplace. Preorders for the event started in mid-October, allowing consumers to pay a deposit upfront to reserve the product at the Singles’ Day price and pay the balance today.

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