Wealthy Nations Daily Update - Singles Day !!

Today as Brits, Kiwis and many peoples in between commemorate Armistice Day and Hindus celebrate Diwali, people across China celebrate another (less sombre) form of freedom. It is Singles Day in China. Also known as Guanggun Jie; literally “bare sticks day” on account of the date, 11/11, containing only ones. Originally an anti-valentine’s day originating from the town of Nanjing, today’s nationwide celebration of singledom has grown into a consumer frenzy as singles, and inurbane couples, indulge themselves on an array of mostly online discounts.

In recent years #1111fest has proved a huge hit for online retailers like Alibaba, JD, Taobao and Amazon China with daily sales growing from USD 0.8bln in 2011 to 3bln, 6bln and 9bln in following years. This is compared to the last US Cyber Monday tally of only around USD 1.3bln. This morning Alibaba beat that US sales figure within 15 minutes of midnight as 100mln shoppers parted with RMB 8bln and then proceeded to beat last year’s record before midday. Most of these bargain hunters are from China (but Alibaba has tracked sales to 200 other countries) yet this still leaves a vast proportion of the 670m online Chinese who are either contently smitten or perhaps are potential targets for future Singles Day mega sales or other events retailers can exploit.

At the time of writing the garish neon counter on the Alibaba stage in Beijing continues to tick towards the RMB 76bn (USD 12bn) mark which would continue the spectacular growth trend. On stage Alibaba CEO Jack Ma employed the personas of James Bond (Daniel Craig) and US President Frank J Underwood (Kevin Spacey in House of Cards) to unashamedly tout some of the products and add even more of a western consumer feel to the whole proceeding.

Aiding comprehension of today’s sheer scale, 230,000 flat screen TVs were sold in the first hour alone, Xiaomi hopes to sell as many as 2m smartphones today alone and Alibaba is estimating that it will take 200 aeroplanes, 5,000 warehouses, 400,000 vehicles and 1.7m delivery men to aid in fulfilling today's binge. Apart from the vast array of tech products for sale today other discount items include boyfriend shaped pillows and single travel tickets - but only if punters are unwilling or unable to find a date at the hundreds of matchmaking events going on this evening. Wedding dresses are also for sale for the more optimistic.

Matchmaking and celebrating being single was indeed the original purpose of the day before Alibaba successfully rebranded it as a day to “spoil yourself”. Such market shaping activity and willingness of the public to buy into it is a testament to the growing Chinese domestic market. The world is waking up to the sheer size of the Chinese economy and many western companies will benefit from today’s sales, but not as much as local ones. The scale is still hard to conceive but watch the bowtied on-stage blandishment of Mr Ma and Mr Bond and one can at least begin to taste the thriving consumer spirit in China. Jack Ma epitomised many people's view of China saying, "Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine." Many dwell on the first two sombre stanzas but as Mr Ma first said this almost 15 years ago perhaps the sunshine is already beckoning.