There’s nothing quite like bingeing on online bargains to soothe the dull ache of loneliness. That seems to be the view in China anyway, as its annual Singles Day bargain bonanza smashes records. Chinese consumers spent $1bn online in the first eight minutes of the sales during the country’s Anti-Valentine’s Day, which has largely been orchestrated by Alibaba.
The tech giant helped to whip up the frenzy with a star studded variety show featuring Daniel Craig and a special video message from Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian US President Frank Underwood from the Netflix show House of Cards.
It clearly worked. By midday Chinese time, the spend had already surpassed last year’s total of $9bn for the whole day. That tells us two things that China’s official economic data don’t (or at least, not reliably). One, there are a lot of single people in China. Two, Chinese consumers (single or otherwise) haven’t stopped spending in the wake of the country’s rapid industrial slowdown.
Of course, that could be because they were just delaying their purchases until today, but it at least fits the narrative of China’s Communist Party figures, which showed consumer spending rose 11% in October.
The Singles Day fun might find its way over here, if Alibaba gets its way. It’s trying to extend the sales to foreign markets while opening up China to Western brands like Zara, Estee Lauder and Burberry. The tech giant has even started referring to the event as its 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, perhaps in preparation for the potentially devastating effect of the end of the one-child policy on the number of singles (it just doesn’t have the same ring).
This comes as retailers over here are tiring of the whole foreign sales craze thing – at least, on the high street. Two years after introducing America’s Black Friday madness to the country, Wal-mart subsidiary Asda has said it won’t run the event this year. The supermarket price war is clearly biting hard.