How Alibaba Made Almost $18 Billion in One Day

jack ma alibaba singles day
Jack Ma watches the 2016 Singles' Day gross merchandise volume tally.
REX Shutterstock.

If Alibaba Group’s mega e-commerce shopping extravaganza is the global retail benchmark that the company’s leaders say it is, then things are looking up for the industry.

The Chinese e-commerce giant shattered its previous Singles’ Day record as online shoppers spent billions, bringing the Nov. 11 bonanza’s sales total to $17.8 billion, according to the firm.

That number handily topped the $14.32 billion worth of goods that Alibaba said it sold on its platform during Singles’ Day last year and dwarfed the sales performance of U.S. retail spending catalysts Cyber Monday and Black Friday.

The events success is undoubtedly attached to the China e-commerce giant and its executive chairman Jack Ma’s unrelenting quest to drive explosive and unprecedented growth through marquee brand partnerships; an emphasis on innovation; and a push to rebrand China as a consumption-based economy.

On the product and technology side, Alibaba pulled out all of the stops this year —launching a new end-to-end virtual reality shopping feature, landing new brand participants with Apple Inc. and Maserati, and adding exclusive lines from returning brands such as Nike Inc.

Alibaba marked the day — an obscure sales event started seven years ago to fill a gap in China’s retail calendar and celebrate single men and women but quickly became the biggest online shopping event in the world — with a buzzy four-hour show in Shenzhen, southern China’s Guangdong province. Now in its second year, the star-studded gala brought out Scarlett Johansson, David Beckham and Kobe Bryant and also featured live music from OneRepublic.

While Singles’ Day results are often interpreted as a signal of China’s economic health, some experts cast a skeptical eye to the numbers, which they believe are inflated to create a false impression of a robust Chinese economy.

Nike, Adidas and New Balance were among the most popular brands sold on Singles’ Day last year. Early 2016 reads name Nike, Adidas and Apple among the top-selling labels.