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China Plays Host to the Biggest Online Holiday Shopping Day

Though the country may eschew Western-style commercialism to a degree, the entrepreneurial spirit thrives within Alibaba. The company plans to celebrate its place in ecommerce with their Double Eleven shopping festival, to take place November 11th.

The now six-year-old event encompasses both online offerings as well as the realm of brick and mortar stores. Executives from Alibaba Group including executive chairman Jack Ma, CEO Daniel Zhang, and company president Michael Evans opened up their Double Eleven event earlier in October in Hangzhou.

Zhang noted the debut of the company’s online Tmall had lacked an attention-getting date like the Black Friday or the more recent Cyber Monday dates familiar to other shoppers around the globe. “We wanted to find a date for Chinese consumers, to help people remember our new Tmall brand,” he said.

“When we were searching for the exact date, we came across Singles Day – the day for single men and women. So we thought, if people are still single, we can offer them good products and they can enjoy online shopping and feel less lonely. That’s the origin for 11.11 seven years ago and the original thinking behind the holiday,” Zhang said in a statement.

Whether people seeking love and companionship appreciated this kind of acknowledgement or not, Double Eleven has been an annual success story for Alibaba. It’s grown to the point where Alibaba decision-makers opted to move their “war room” from Hangzhou to Beijing for Double Eleven’s launch. There’s even a New Year’s Eve style televised countdown planned.

So what’s the impact for online sellers? According to Alibaba’s chairman, it’s many more potential customers buying globally.

“There are currently 300 million middle class in China, and that number will rise to 500 million in 10 to 15 years. This will be an opportunity for every nation,” Ma said. “China’s consumption power will rise quickly and that will not only drive China’s economy but also the world’s economy.”

“Ten years ago, that goal would not have been possible,” Evans said in a statement. “In the past, it was really only multinationals that could afford to sell their products internationally. And most consumers had only limited access to products from around the world.”

If all goes as planned, Alibaba’s strategy will bring more than additional international brands into China. Alibaba also will have import deals with individual countries to help them reach Chinese consumers. One such deal being touted by the company will have Alibaba owning the dominant position in bringing imported fresh foods into the country.

Alibaba said more than 40,000 merchants will participate in Double Eleven, with over 5,000 brands from 25 countries and over 6 million products being available for purchase. When looking at 20 years of online selling, it’s a long way from Amazon selling books out of a garage or eBay facilitating the sale of a broken laser pointer.

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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.