Chinese consumers have opened their virtual purses wide in the world’s biggest e-commerce binge. The amount spent tops the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US.
Chinese shoppers on Saturday spent billions of dollars in an annual online commercial extravaganza that was once meant as a celebration for lonely hearts.
The 24-hour shopping festival, which starts at midnight, has broken its own record every year since being launched in 2009, with last year’s sales mark of $17.8 billion (€15.26 billion) already exceeded by midday, according to the organizer, e-commerce giant Alibaba. That amount in 2016 surpassed the 2015 total by 32 percent.
The event, now indulged in by all consumers whether with or without a better half, takes pride of place in the calendar of manufacturers and retailers in the country, making up a significant share of annual orders for many businesses.
With more than half of China’s 1.3 billion people being smartphone users, it is no surprise that more than 90 percent of orders were made by mobile, most of them on taobao.com, Alibaba’s main e-commerce platform. Just five minutes after midnight, Alipay, Alibaba’s online payment system, was already processing 256,000 transactions per second, double the highest rate recorded last year.
The volume of sales means that delivery people will be kept busy over the next six days carrying an estimated 1.5 billion parcels to their new owners. But some of their work this year will be taken over by robots, as China pushes ahead with its policy of increasingly automating menial tasks.
Huge waste production
Not all are enthusiastic about the massive consumer orgy, however, with environmentalists accusing Alibaba of promoting a culture of over-consumption that creates mountains of waste.
Greenpeace said “Singles Day” deliveries last year resulted in 130,000 metric tons (143,000 short tons) of packaging waste in what it called a “disaster for the environment.” It says such online shopping festivals are, in fact, more carbon-intensive than “brick-and-mortar shopping.”
Such objections are, however, not likely to hold Alibaba back from its push toward expanding “Singles Day” onto the global market.
The success of the event has also been a boon to many once-struggling Chinese towns and villages that are now dubbed “Taobao villages” after refocusing their local economies around manufacturing for online buyers.