Singles' Day - China's anti-Valentine's celebration

  • 11 November 2013
Tmall.com's Singles' Day promotion
All goods half price - and not just for those celebrating their single status

Two million bras sold in one hour, making a pile that would be three times higher than Mount Everest!

That was the proud claim from Taobao, China's biggest online shopping platform, after its busiest day of the year got off to a strong start.

November 11 is China's anti-Valentine's Day, a day when young people celebrate being single. But for many, it's also an excuse to log onto Taobao and other Chinese websites.

Almost all products are sold at half price on major e-commerce websites. In just six minutes after midnight, $164 million was spent on Tmall.com, China's Amazon and eBay mixed into one.

A few days ago, my roommate asked me what I had stashed in my online shopping cart for Singles' Day promotions on 11 November. She excitedly showed me what she had in stock: one pair of leather boots and a set of soft sheets.

Half-price contagion

"Imagine buying these for half the original price," she said.

Her shopping excitement quickly became dangerously contagious. I found myself watching for the clock to strike midnight on 11 November.

A hiking jacket for my mum, winter boots for my dad; my family's shopping desires were all channelled towards me.

It would be so easy to make these purchases, I thought, and how nice it would be to pamper my family with just one click on the "pay now" button, and the password for my credit card.

But when the clock finally struck midnight, the payment page was hopelessly jammed.

All I could see was a cartoon picture of a frantic cashier girl sweating in front of a crowd of shoppers.

"Sorry we've got too many customers; please wait patiently," the caption said. Then the cartoon disappeared and I got an error page.

'Unavailable'

It was a funny feeling; half disbelief that I wasn't able to spend money when I wanted to, and half lingering excitement and desire to spend more money.

Just as I was watching some of the items became "unavailable" in my shopping cart, my roommate ran into my room.

"Why isn't my purchase going through?" she yelled. I poised myself, and never felt so determined to spend my money.

Luckily, the night ended in peace. We both got what we wanted, with a bit of agitation. I fell asleep hoping I wouldn't regret what I've bought, because honestly, I spent more time plotting how my payment would go through, than thinking about what I was buying.

I'm not single, but I stumbled into the celebration of Singles' Day alongside hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers. The next morning, when I found out almost $2 billion was spent on Tmall.com overnight, I felt like a foot soldier who had gone to battle in someone else's war.

Shanghai singletons looking for love - or just window shopping?