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China's mega shopping event, Singles Day, sold more in 24 hours than Amazon sells in two months

Singles Day, China's mega shopping event, sold $38 billion of goods in 24 hours — with some help from Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian West.
Image: Singles Day China
Workers sorting packages at a logistics center in Lianyungang, east China's Jiangsu province, ahead of the annual "Singles Day" shopping festiva on Nov. 3, 2016.AFP - Getty Images file

Singles Day, the world’s biggest shopping event, just sold more in one day than Amazon sells in two months. China's shopping-meets-entertainment annual event, which was originally created to celebrate singlehood, hit a record $38 billion in sales on Monday, including $12 billion in just the first hour.

The mammoth event, which happens every year on Nov. 11, is often compared to Black Friday. But it’s far bigger — not just in terms of sales, but in its extravagance, mingling fashion shows, concerts, games, brick-and-mortar stores, technology, and e-commerce.

Singles Day started out in 1993 at Nanjing University, with students hosting parties to celebrate being single. In 2009, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba rebranded Singles Day as the 11/11 Global Shopping Festival, where consumers could find steep discounts on items across the site.

It has since evolved into a colossal shopping spree that makes Black Friday weekend look like pennies in a jar.

The day starts with a four-hour variety show called the Countdown Gala, a sort of Grammys-meets-Fashion Week, all live streamed through a platform that allows shoppers to buy directly from the video. Taylor Swift headlined the event this year, with Mariah Carey, Maria Sharapova, Miranda Kerr, and Kobe Bryant all making previous appearances. Not only can people watch the event and shop through the livestream, but they can play interactive games on their smartphones to win perks or boost points for celebrities while they participate in a challenge.

American companies are taking an ever-increasing interest in the mega retail opportunity, as affluent Chinese consumers continue to grow their share of the global economy. Names such as Nike, Macy's, Unilever, and Tiffany have run their own Singles Day promotions. Estée Lauder pulled in $70 million in the first 25 minutes of its presale this year, Levi Strauss designed an exclusive line of apparel, and Kim Kardashian West hosted a livestream to sell her perfume.

“China has been the biggest, hottest name in e-commerce for the last five years,” Lily Varón, an e-commerce analyst with Forrester Research, told NBC News. “Retailers started paying attention because there was a desire to diversify their revenue streams from domestic markets and demand from consumers.”

To compare, last year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday drove a respective $6.22 billion and $7.8 billion in online sales by American consumers. Alibaba alone — not including retailers who do promotions on their own sites — drove $30.8 billion in gross merchandise volume in its 2018 Singles Day event.

“It’s about the social experience and games and product — versus Black Friday, which is basically price driven,” said Sarah Willersdorf, partner and managing director with Boston Consulting Group.

Months of trade tensions between the U.S. and China seem not to have affected Chinese consumers, despite dire forecasts of a boycott of American products as a result of the ongoing tit for tat over tariffs. Goods from the U.S. were the second largest block of sales, in terms of volume, CNBC reported.