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Alibaba's Singles Day splurge puts Black Friday in the shade

Scenes of desperate shoppers trading blows over flatscreen TVs and vacuum cleaners have become a feature of Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving flash sale that has turned into a weeklong staple of the retail calendar.

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Source: Alibaba

Not so on Nov. 11, when China celebrates its own shopping bonanza, Singles Day. Also known as "Double 11" or 11.11, the event has been spearheaded by internet juggernaut Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and its many online marketplaces. Not only is there less violence than on Black Friday, but there is also a lot more money spent. Total Black Friday sales in 2018 were estimated by Adobe Analytics at $6.22 billion. Alibaba's preliminary total for this year's Singles Day was $38.40 billion.

The scale of the event is truly something to behold. Pop star Taylor Swift began the proceedings with a performance in Shanghai, the latest in a line of celebrity guests that has included Mariah Carey, Kobe Bryant and Daniel Craig. By 6:31 p.m., Alibaba had received more than 1.04 billion orders, surpassing the previous year's total.

Major Western brands, including L'Oréal, Mondelēz and Nestlé were keen to take advantage. "It is clear that Chinese consumers, male and women, would like to upgrade their lifestyles, and 11.11 is a really great moment to engage with them," Stephane Wilmet, chief customer officer at L'Oréal, told Alibaba's Alizila news site.

The timing appears ideal for Alibaba. Concerns have been raised about the impact of China's slowing GDP growth on consumer spending, but that has not materialized just yet, at least for this company. That will be a crucial message for potential investors later this month when Alibaba is expected to push ahead with its second stock market listing in Hong Kong.

Consumer Edge is a weekly collection of critical developments across the automotive; retail; and food, beverage, and tobacco industries. Drawing on exclusive analysis and value-added content from the Consumer News team at S&P Global Market Intelligence, it is published every Thursday. Click here to subscribe.

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