China's largest company, featuring a concurrent televised entertainment spectacle featuring Cirque du Soleil and Mariah Carey, reported that Xiaomi, Apple and Dyson products were the top three brands in early sales.
The annual retail celebration, has become an important bellwether not just for the company, but also the country. This year's Nov. 11 gala offers a glimpse of consumer sentiment in China as U.S. tensions and a tit-for-tat tariff war depressed stock markets and threatened to damp the world's No. 2 economy.
Still, Alibaba is intent on beating 2017's 39 percent growth and 168 billion yuan in transactions, a haul that dwarfed Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
The challenge for billionaire Jack and his lieutenant Daniel Zhang is a new record after a scorching decade-long run. With a cooling economy, JD.com Inc. and Pinduoduo Inc.
"Jedi, president of Tmall, one of the company's main sites, said at the Singles' Day event. "We're connecting online shopping with offline physical outlets."
Singles' Day was the brainchild of co-founder Ma and Zhang, who came up with the idea of turning the counter-cultural holiday into a shopfest a decade ago. First popularized by college students, Nov. 11 emerging from the way to the sentimentality of Valentine's Day. It takes its name from the way the day is written numerically as 11/11, which resembles "bare branches," to local expression for the unattached . Now, it's become an excuse for people to shop, eat and binge on entertainment shows. It is so much that packaging waste – Alibaba expects 1 billion packages to get shipped this year
The chief executive, who takes over from a retiring. But as chairman next year, he must prove he can carry that legacy. His Hangzhou-based company also uses the occasion to test the limits of its cloud computing, delivery and payment units.
Still, there's some uncertainty this year, as trade rates and deflation assets values threaten to disrupt economic growth. Chinese retail sales growth slowed to 24% in the third quarter, 12 percentage points from the previous three months, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
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It's been three years since Ma said he wants to make Singles' Day a global phenomenon, but that has not happened. International expansion will be a key plank of Zhang's effort to keep breaking records. Last year, the top three non-Chinese Singles' Day markets were Russia, tiny Hong Kong and the U.S. – in that order. Popular items purchased overseas included mobile phones, wool coats and knitted sweaters.
At the same time, Alibaba's efforts to push into the U.S. are sputtering. It discarded a pledge to create a million jobs in the country, lost its top American dealmaker and jettisoned plans for affiliates Ant Financial to acquire MoneyGram. U.S. President Donald Trump said in mid-October he plans to withdraw from a 192-nation treaty that gives Chinese consumers discounted shipping rates for small packages to American consumers, making it even harder for the Chinese market.
Southeast Asia will give the clearest indication of Alibaba's ability to go global. With Singapore-based Lazada now fully under its wing, the region remains one of the company's relative bright spots, amid a backdrop of slowing growth in China.