Singles Day Online Shopping Festival in China Brings Big Sales, Fraud, Addiction, and Tragedy
Annie Wu, 14 Nov 17

An electronic screen in Shanghai shows the amount of money spent by consumers on the Alibaba online retailer site nationwide during the Nov. 11 Singles Day shopping festival on November 11, 2017. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Nov. 11, also known as Singles’ Day, is an online shopping holiday in China unlike any other.  A star-studded show, hosted by China’s largest online retailer, Alibaba, kicks off the festivities every year, originally conceived as an online sales event for singles to treat themselves with some retail therapy. This past Friday, movie star Nicole Kidman, rapper Pharrell Williams, and Chinese film stars Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing were among those present at a gala in Shanghai.

By the end of a 24-hour period, Alibaba had made 168.3 billion yuan, or roughly US$25 billion, an almost 40 percent increase from last year’s 120.7 billion yuan (US$17.8 billion).

Founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Jack Ma (C) as he greets spectators with Mongolia’s former sumo wrestler Dagvadorj Dolgorsurengiin (L), Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen (2L), Australian actress Nicole Kidman (2R), and Chinese actor Wu Jing (R), during the company’s Nov. 11 shopping festival gala in Shanghai. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese consumers bought the most products from Japan, America, Australia, Germany, and South Korea. In Guangzhou Province in southern China alone, 360 million packages were to be shipped out by the local post office.

But the sales numbers have been called into question. According to Reuters, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has launched a probe into Alibaba’s accounting practices in 2016, including into its Singles’ Day sales.

On the same day, Chinese newspaper Beijing News published an article exposing websites that provide fake transactions for store vendors. Online store vendors can request however many fake transactions they’d like, and the person who helps complete the task gets a commission in exchange. The fake sales are made under fake names, in order to increase a vendor’s sales volume and popularity ranking—in the hopes of attracting real customers to make purchases.

One website, called “51 Shua Dan” (the term in Chinese for fake transactions), closed down after the Beijing News report came out. Before closing, the website had 62,484 members and had completed 10 million fake transactions, according to Beijing News.

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