"Singles Day" may sound lonely, but those taking part are finding some togetherness in what amounts to the world's largest annual shopping spree, with more than $1 billion spent in just over a minute in an eye-popping start to Monday's event.
More than halfway through the unofficial Chinese shopping holiday known as Singles Day, sales volume had already blown past last year's total, according to Alibaba, China's version of Amazon, which showed the running tally live on its web site.
In terms of money spent, China's one-day festival of consumption has already eclipsed predictions of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday — combined. Adobe Analytics, the retail data tracking service, estimates that the long U.S. holiday shopping weekend this year will generate total retail sales of $29 billion — that's less than the $36 billion generated more than half-way through this year's 24-hour Singles Day sales period, which last year fueled $30 billion in sales.
Alibaba reported selling $1 billion worth of goods sold in 1 minute and 8 seconds. It sold $12 billion in the first hour, the company said in a statement. China's biggest online direct retailer, JD.com, reported sales of $25.6 billion by mid-afternoon.
Retailers offered discounts on products from smartphones to craft beer to health care packages.
"Yesterday night, I was browsing past 11 p.m. Many of my friends around me were staying up till 2 a.m. to buy stuff," said Zhu Yirun, a graduate student in Beijing.
What's morphed into an astounding revenue-generating enterprise started out among Chinese university students holding parties to celebrate being single in 1993, only to be co-opted by Alibaba 16 years later. The China-based retailing giant marked down merchandise in a marketing campaign that had other e-commerce companies soon doing the same. A decade later, the event now gives Amazon Prime Day a run for its money.
This year, more than 200,000 brands are participating, Alibaba said. The company hyped the event with a "Countdown Gala" featuring a performance by pop singer Taylor Swift Sunday night at a Shanghai stadium.
American companies are also getting in on the act. Nearly a quarter of U.S. retailers plan to run promotions for Singles Day, according to Adobe, which surveyed more than 400 U.S. retailers with annual sales in excess of $500,000.
That said, U.S.-China trade tensions could ding American brands taking part this year, concludes another study by global consultancy AlixPartners.
Chinese consumers plan to spend 54% more this year than in 2018, but 78% of Chinese surveyed said they would think twice about buying U.S. products due to loyalty to their country, AlixPartners found in a recent survey of more than 2,000 Chinese consumers.
E-commerce has grown quickly in China, the result of a lack of traditional retailing networks as well as government efforts to encourage internet use on official channels. The nation has 800 million people online.
Monday marks Alibaba's first Singles Day since its founder, Jack Ma, stepped down as chairman in September. He remains as a member of the Alibaba Partnership, a 36-member group with the right to nominate a majority of the company's board of directors.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.