You might not know this, but today is "singles day." That's according to China and the world's largest supplier of goods, Alibaba. Together the two have turned an obscure student holiday into the country's biggest shopping event.
In the 1990s, Chinese university students began celebrating being unattached on Nov. 11, which of course is abbreviated 11/11.
The idea was for singles to go out, go to parties, go to bars without all the Valentine's Day commercial schmaltz.
At least that's what it was. Now it's the biggest commercial holiday on the planet.
Chinese shoppers bought more than $9 billion in goods for themselves today. Alibaba began promoting the celebrations in recent years as a way for singles to treat themselves to something special, and online retailers jumped in, offering deep discounts on purchases.
To put that in perspective, that's almost three times what Americans spent last year on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Alibaba, which normally ships 16 million packages a day, now has 250 million packages to ship over the next three to five days, the company's Chairman Jack Ma told CNBC.
Ma says he wants the day to be a global holiday. But it could be a tough sell in the United States.
Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, says shopping days are relatively routine for Americans, compared with China's emerging middle class.
"This whole shopping experience is fairly new for the average Chinese consumer," Chernev says, "where in the United States it has existed for many decades."
Chernev says the date, Nov. 11, is also too close to Americans' already well-established shopping season and is, of course, already a holiday, Veterans Day, when lots of things go on sale.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Yesterday, Veterans Day in the U.S., had a different meaning in China. There, Tuesday was Singles' Day.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
That Day has become China's biggest shopping event thanks to Alibaba, the world's biggest online shopping company. We have in-depth coverage this morning from NPR's Laura Sullivan.
LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Singles' Day was started by Chinese university students in the 1990s to celebrate being unattached. Hence, November 11, 1-1, 1-1, a day for singles to go out, go to parties, go to bars with none of that Valentine's Day, couples walking on a beach, diamond ring commercial schmultz. At least that's what it was. Now it's the biggest commercial holiday on the planet thanks to Alibaba's chairman, Jack Ma, who has promoted it as a day to buy your single self something special - on sale.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ready? And... Spend.
UNIDENTIFIED SHOPPERS: (Oohing and aahing).
SULLIVAN: Chinese watched on state television as shoppers spent a billion dollars in the first 20 minutes. By the end of the day, they had spent more than $9 billion. That's almost three times what Americans put down on Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year. Some American retailers, like Calvin Klein and Estee Lauder, offered a few deals here in the states. But marketing professor Alexander Chernev at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management says it's not likely to catch on to that extent here.
ALEXANDER CHERNEV: And this whole shopping experience is fairly new to the average Chinese consumer, whereas, in the United States, it has existed for many decades.
SULLIVAN: Chernev says November 11 is too close to Americans' well-established shopping season. And, of course, it is also Veterans Day, where lots of things are already on sale. Laura Sullivan, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.