Alibaba wants to go 'beyond China' as it posts record Singles Day sales

Krystal Hu

China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) recorded $38.4 billion in sales in the past 24 hours. 

This marks another year of breaking its own sales record on Singles Day, the shopping holiday Alibaba started in 2009. However, the growth rate of the gross merchandise volume (GMV) fell to the lowest point ever at 26% when calculated using the Chinese renminbi, a slight drop from last year’s 27%.

“It's not just GMV that we are looking at,” Chris Tung, Alibaba’s Chief Marketing Officer, told YFi AM on Monday. “The way we measure our success is whether or not we are providing meaningful and innovative activities and outreach to really engage more consumers to support the growth of the brands and merchants we're working with.”

‘How do we take it beyond China’

While the growth rate is stabilizing, Tung says Singles Day still has untapped potential, both at home and overseas.

“And the other thing is, how do we take it beyond China and cover more markets where Alibaba has built a footprint, with different platforms, to be able to have the brands worldwide,” Tung said. “There’s still huge room to grow here and there's still untapped opportunity in the less developed areas in China, where people have huge demand for quality products from all over the world.”

In its 11th year, Singles Day has grown from an excuse for young unattached people to treat themselves to the most successful one-day sales event on the planet. Consumers in China are trained to save money months ahead, pick their items ahead of time, and when the clock turns midnight, check out everything waiting in their online carts.

A screen shows the value of goods being transacted during Alibaba Group's Singles' Day global shopping festival at the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

For brands, it’s another story. While big brands have been able to pull off aggressive promotions to win more traffic, some smaller ones find the game could be too costly to participate in, as they need to pay Alibaba an advertisement fee to be featured as part of Singles Day.

American brands, usually with deep pockets, are sharing big pieces of the pie. Despite the year-long trade dispute between the U.S. and China, American brands including Nike (NKE) and Apple (AAPL) have lured millions of consumers through Singles Day. Apple, in a rare move, offered a 500 yuan ($71) coupon for its recently launched iPhone 11 Pro.

Credit: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

Alibaba’s stock was down 1% on Monday morning, EST.

Singles Day may be more of a testament to Alibaba’s technology capabilities than how many goods it’s sold. At least that’s how Daniel Zhang, the chairman and CEO of Alibaba, and the creator behind the shopping holiday, sees it. Zhang said he cared most about the peak technical capabilities demonstrated in a festival like this. Last year, Alibaba handled 480,000 orders per second at the peak of Singles Day, according to Zhang.

Singles Day has also become a holiday celebrated by major e-commerce players across China. (JD) reported $29 billion in sales for its own Singles Day event, which lasted 11 days. Pinduoduo, another Alibaba rival, said it won’t reveal its sales number.

“Rather than the numbers, we care more if our consumers are enjoying the real benefits and fun,” Pinduoduo said in a statement.

Krystal Hu covers tech and China for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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