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Alibaba's Singles' Day Event Posts Record Sales of $17.8 Billion

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On Friday, China’s e-commerce king Alibaba (BABA) held its annual Singles’ Day shopping event, posting record sales of $17.8 billion worth of gross merchandise volume (GMV) and soaring past last year’s results of $14.3 billion. This figure was easily beaten in Chinese Yuan before 3:30pm.

Back in the 1990s, Singles’ Day was first celebrated by young, single Chinese people as a pushback against Valentine’s Day. Now, it’s become one of the country’s biggest shopping events. Alibaba began to capitalize on the “holiday” in 2009, promoting discounts at certain retailers on its various digital platforms; the company uses Singles’ Day as a way to boost its revenues in the typically slow sales period before the Lunar New Year season.

This year, Alibaba said that deals offered by athletic giants Nike Inc. (NKE - Free Report) and Adidas (ADDYY - Free Report) , iPhone maker Apple Inc. (AAPL - Free Report) , industrial automation company Siemens AG-ADR (SIEGY - Free Report) , and fast fashion retailer Uniqlo. Many international brands have jumped on the holiday over recent years. According to CNBC, 14,000 brands took part of 2016 Singles’ Say, making up roughly 30% of total GMV just half-way into the shopping event. Big Chinese brands like appliance manufacturers Haier and Midea and smartphone maker Meizu also reported strong profits in the event.

Popular celebrities made appearances at the four-hour “countdown event” in Shenzhen this year, including actress Scarlett Johansson, David Beckham and his wife, fashion designer Victoria Beckham, Kobe Bryant, and live music from OneRepublic. Even Alibaba CEO Jack Ma showed up and performed a magic trick on stage, along with promotional spots for the new Alibaba Pictures’ latest film production.

For some perspective on how big of a sale Singles’ Day is, 2015’s Black Friday, the annual day-after-Thanksgiving sale here in the U.S., only reached $4.5 billion in GMV; Cyber Monday, the annual Monday-after-Thanksgiving e-commerce sale event, only saw a record $3 billion last year, or pocket change compared to what Singles’ Day brings in.

"Jack Ma likes to say that they're no longer an e-commerce company. They're sort of transcending that," said Duncan Clark, chairman and MD of the business advisory BDA China, to CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Friday."It's about data, it's about finance, it's about media." This is very similar to how Inc. (AMZN) has evolved over the years, turning into not just the biggest e-commerce platform in the U.S., but also a top video streaming choice for many consumers through its Prime membership.

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