Flag Day. Arbor Day. National Grandparents Day. Sometimes, it seems we in the U.S. just make up holidays with the sole hope that our school or employer might slip up and give us the day off.
None of these holidays, though, share the sheer chutzpah of the Chinese "holiday" that now celebrates singlehood and cybershopping. That day is today.
Happy Singles' Day!
In 1993, students at Nanjing University declared Nov. 11 "Singles' Day," and dedicated the date to young unmarried folk throwing parties. Sixteen years later, the Alibaba Group (the Chinese online shopping site that functions as a sort of Amazon.com and eBay all rolled up in one) announced it was appropriating Nov. 11 for its own purposes, encouraging single Chinese youths to engage in a Shopping Festival online, treating themselves to everything from wine to shiny new BMWs.
However spurious the date's origins, Chinese shoppers have taken to Alibaba's idea with abandon. According to the website, 13.7 million shoppers ordered items online today in honor of the "holiday." By 6 a.m. in China, some 10 billion yuan had already been spent.
Alibaba isn't the only company benefiting from the new holiday. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), for example, says it's seen traffic on its website triple over the past five days. Today, Microsoft is hoping to book a full month's worth of its China sales in a single day.
And this big event just keeps getting bigger. Nationwide, the China Market Research Group says Chinese consumers could spend as much as $5 billion today, which would equal 20% growth over last year -- and more than three times the $1.5 billion that Americans spent on "Cyber Monday" after Thanksgiving last year.
Impressed yet? Don't be -- or rather, don't be impressed with this "holiday story" alone. Because the truth of the matter is that as fast as this "Singles' Day" phenomenon has grown, the rest of the Chinese e-commerce market is growing even faster.
This past summer, PricewaterhouseCoopers issued a report on online shopping trends around the globe. The report noted that Chinese shoppers spent $211 billion online last year; and this figure was up 64% year over year, growing three times as fast as sales on Singles' Day alone.
China is now the No. 1 country for e-commerce. Against this long-term trend, the Singles' Day phenomenon is less of a headline and more of a footnote.