|A woman before a computer [Women Images]|
Li Zhe, a college student in east China's Nanjing City, has compiled a wish list for "Singles Day" on November 11, a holiday that has become China's busiest online shopping day.
"I come from a rural family and I am always very careful about spending money. Nevertheless, I will act like a shopaholic on Singles Day because the discounts they offer are really irresistible!" he said, adding that he has been browsing the Internet to prepare his shopping list for the last two months.
Singles Day is said to have been started by several college students in Nanjing in the 1990s to celebrate -- or poke fun at -- their unattached status. The timing of the holiday on November 11 each year is based on the four solitary digits in "11.11."
It has grown into the Chinese version of Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving in the United States promoted as an online shopping day. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group launched its first sales campaign on Singles Day in 2009.
Since then, Singles Day sales at Tmall, an online marketplace under Alibaba, have snowballed from 50 million yuan (8.16 million U.S. dollars) in 2009 to 35 billion yuan last year, about twice the sum for Cyber Monday in 2012.
"Last year, we saw a sales volume of 5.8 billion U.S. dollars on that shopping day, I don't know how much we will make this year, but it will certainly be a bustling scene," said Alibaba founder Jack Ma during a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the company's headquarters on November 7.
Alibaba successfully completed the world's biggest initial public offering in September. The company's share price rose to over 100 U.S. dollars in November, compared with 68 U.S. dollars per share in September.
Xiong Yan, a private fund manager in Guangdong Province, said, "It is predictable that Singles Day will push up Alibaba's financial performance in the fourth quarter, and the rapid rise in the share price recently can be interpreted as a sign that the world's investors have taken notice of the significance of November 11."
Wu Sheng, an e-commerce analyst with the Ministry of Commerce, said Singles Day has turned consumption into a form of entertainment, which, for many people, is a means of emotional release. The popularity of mobile devices has facilitated the shopping frenzy, he added.
The Singles Day shopping spree is a reflection of the rapid expansion of China's e-commerce sector in recent years.
According to Internet industry research agency iResearch, China's online shopping market had a sales volume of 691.41 billion yuan in the third quarter, up by 49.8 percent from the same period last year.
iResearch also noted that e-commerce companies are expanding their business from first- and second-tier cities to third- and fourth-tier cities and even rural areas. At the same time, they are also extending their business abroad.
Zhang Yong, chief operating officer of Alibaba, said that the company aspires to internationalize Singles Day promotions by offering Chinese consumers more access to quality products from around the world.
"American retailer Costco's recent partnership with Tmall is an example. The brand has seen good results for Singles Day advance sales," he said.
Tmall International is a new platform under Alibaba that provides commodities produced or sold in overseas markets. Since its launch in February, it has brought in thousands of global brands.
Tmall International announced last month that it will offer free delivery worldwide for products ordered on November 11.
"When Alibaba held road shows (for the IPO), everybody asked when the Double 11 festival would go global," said Wang Yulei, president of Tmall.
"The first step to go global is to make everyone able to buy things from Britain, Germany, the United States or Japan at home," he said.
"On Nov. 11, we will, for the first time, launch a global promotion section on Tmall, where Chinese consumers can buy products from different countries and foreign consumers can also order Chinese products on that platform," he said.
Wu Qian, manager of Tmall International, said the platform will bring Singles Day promotions to consumers in countries including Malaysia, Brazil, and Russia this year.
Aliexpress.com, another international shopping platform under Alibaba, announced on October 30 in Brazil that the website would offer discounts of up to 50 percent to Brazilian buyers on November 11, as well as free shipping for some products.
China's vast rural areas are another potential market for online retailers. Statistics provided by Alibaba show that there were 177 million Internet users in China's rural areas in 2013. The company predicted that sales volume in the rural online shopping market may reach 180 billion yuan this year.
The figure may exceed 460 billion yuan in 2016, according to Xie Yang, official with the Development Research Center of the State Council.
However, the rural market for e-commerce is still largely untapped. Lu Zhaoxi, CEO of Alibaba, said about 34 percent of urban residents are engaged in e-commerce, while only 9 percent of people in rural areas use online shopping platforms. He said the company hopes that online shopping will become more popular in the countryside and more farmers will open online stores selling products to customers worldwide.
Alibaba announced last month that it will invest 10 billion yuan to build 1,000 county-level operating centers and 100,000 village-level service stations in the following three to five years.
An anonymous manager of e-commerce company Suning.com said the company has worked out a blueprint for developing its rural market, and it plans to launch at least 10,000 service centers in rural areas, which will cover more than a quarter of the country's townships.
Meng Lili, a villager in Boxing County of Shandong Province, runs an online store selling straw-plaited crafts. She has been especially busy recently, preparing for the upcoming shopping day.
"We received fewer orders than usual in recent days, since many buyers are waiting for the big discounts ahead," she said.
"Last Nov. 11, our sales volume was more than 300,000 yuan. We have to work hard now to make full preparations in order to break last year's record," she said.
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