Update: As more stats about Alibaba's most successful "Singles Day" roll in, the company has disclosed that the record dollar amount of sales has also led to a record number of packages - some 1.35 billion, to be exact.
*CHINA SINGLES' DAY SALE GENERATES 1.35B PACKAGES: POST BUREAU
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Here's a number that might help to lift Alibaba's battered share price. Even as trade tensions and the weakening yuan punish the Chinese economy, the e-commerce giant still managed to book a new gross sales record - in dollar terms, no less - during its annual "Singles Day" sales event on Sunday.
As China's corporate sector strains under its enormous debt burden, Alibaba's sales figure could help reassure Chinese investors who are anxious about the prospects for faltering economic growth that patriotic consumption could help avert a broader crisis, especially after official data revealed some weakness earlier this year.
The record-breaking success will also help cement the legacy of founder and outgoing chairman Jack Ma, who is preparing to hand the reins to Daniel Zhang, who will take over as Aibaba's chairman next year.
This year, gross merchandise value (GMV), a figure that shows sales across the Chinese e-commerce giant's various shopping platforms, surpassed last year's $28 billion (200 billion yuan) record at around 9:30 pm Hong Kong Time (9:34 a.m. ET) on Sunday, and kept marching higher through the rest of the day, according to twitter user @yuantalks and CNBC.
While Singles Day GMV surpassed last year's in dollar terms around 4:30 am ET (about 4:30 pm ET local time), Singles Day GMV beat last year's figure in yuan terms even earlier. Given that the yuan has depreciated more than 10% against the dollar this year, the company needed to make more sales to match last year's dollar-denominated total.
Sales got off to a strong start, hitting $1 billion in just one minute and 25 seconds. Just over an hour in, and sales had surpassed $10 billion, beating last year's time by 5 minutes and 21 seconds.
Still, analysts told Reuters that the good times won't last forever. Despite continued strong growth, competition and China's "economic headwinds" could start to impact Singles' Day sales as soon as next year.
"With an increasing number of promotion events a year, consumers no longer feel that Double 11 is the only opportunity to get good bargains," said Pedro Yip, partner at consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
"Having said that, there are more consumers who still enjoy shopping at double 11 than those that don’t," he said.
Sunday marked the tenth anniversary of Singles Day, which started as an anti-Valentines' Day sale targeted at college students, and has since blossomed into the largest one-day e-commerce event in the world, easily eclipsing the sales volume on any US single day in the US, including Black Friday. During Singles Day, also known as the "Double-11 Shopping Festival" because it falls on Nov. 11., the company offers massive discounts on merchandise from more than 180,000 partnering brands across all of its e-commerce sites.
The sales win could vindicate Alibaba, and Chinese stocks more broadly, after the A-shares market has fallen sharply this year. Back in October, the largest drop in 2 years for Chinese indexes inspired Tencent Music to postpone a planned IPO. Alibaba shares dropped last month after the company lowered its revenue forecasts on the view that the trade war would limit orders of big-ticket items.
True to form, Alibaba hosted a glitzy gala featuring Miranda Kerr and Mariah Carey that started on Saturday and continued through to the end of the sale. Ma made an appearance at the event, which marked the start of the sale, but he didn't give a speech, as he has done in past years.
Zhang, the incoming chairman, said last month that Alibaba sees the burgeoning US-China trade war could be an opportunity for Alibaba. But while the company searches for the strategy that will ultimately carry it through a trade spat that Ma believes could last 20 years, we will now wait to see how much confidence investors have in the company's ability to replicate this kind of success.