Ep. 29: Alibaba Singles’ Day $30.8 Billion Extravaganza — The Real Deal, or Not?


In episode 29 of TechBuzz China, co-hosts Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma talk about China’s version of “Black Friday,” the biggest ecommerce shopping festival of the year which Alibaba invented out of thin air in 2008 and now falls yearly on November 11. Rui and Ying-Ying delve into the history behind the “Double 11 Shopping Festival,” as Chinese media title it. How did it get started? Why does it have such mindshare in the world of China’s internet? How did it go this year? After reviewing the evidence, our co-hosts conclude that despite the large sales figures floating around, this single holiday is not an accurate reflection of the state of the ecommerce sector in China.

Rui and Ying-Ying share that the original iteration of Singles Day was launched in 2008 by Daniel Zhang of Alibaba, who has since been promoted to CEO. His intent was to promote Tmall, Alibaba’s business to consumer (B2C) platform that was then known as Taobao Merchants. Since the selected date, November 11, was already known to some Chinese millennials as Singles Day, the tagline: “Have nothing to do on Singles Day? Why not buy something to gift away?” stuck easily. In that first year, with only 27 brands participating, sales reached $7 million.

In the 10 years since, the shopping holiday’s single day gross merchandise volume (GMV) has grown over 4,000 times. On 11/11 this past week, the holiday generated $25 billion for Alibaba alone; in comparison, Amazon’s Prime Day 2018 was estimated to bring in a mere $4 billion. Additionally, though most headlines focus exclusively on Alibaba, most other major ecommerce platforms — including JD, Pinduoduo, VIPShop, NetEase, and more — now participate as well, boosting numbers even more.

Listen to the newest episode of TechBuzz China and join Rui and Ying-Ying in exploring: What is the real story behind the numbers? Is GMV a reliable indicator of actual revenue, and why or why not? What types of practices does Alibaba engage in that contribute to inflating — or even engineering — these figures? Is there a strong case to be made that the bigger headline should be the massive marketing campaigns, logistics, and infrastructure that had to go into this event to make it all happen?

As always, you can find these stories and more at pandaily.com. Let us know what you think of the show by leaving us an iTunes review, liking our Facebook page, and tweeting at us at @techbuzzchina to win some swag! Finally, a huge shoutout to our new listeners over at dealstreetasia.com.