Alibaba Group kicked off its annual 11.11 Global Shopping Festival at midnight on Sunday, with afour-hour pre-event show at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai featuring local performances, Cirque du Soleil acts, and even Mariah Carey, amping buyers up and solidifying the company's push to blur the line between the online and offline experience.
Within 20 seconds of the sale starting, total gross merchandise volume (GMV) had exceeded 1 billion yuan -- $155 million, with buyers taking only one-and-a-half minutes to spend $1 billion.
By two minutes in, GMV hit 10 billion yuan, and at just under four and a half minutes, sales on Alibaba's ecosystem had surpassed the 2012 total of 19.1 billion yuan. It took only another 30 minutes for the GMV to reach the total for 2014 -- 57.1 billion yuan.
At the end of the first hour, total GMV was 67.2 billion yuan, and 48 seconds later, the total hit $10 billion.
100 billion yuan -- $14.4 billion -- in GMV had been generated at 1.50am CST.
By comparison, Cyber Monday, Black Friday, and Thanksgiving Day sales in the United States last year generated a total of $14.49 billion.
As of midday, Alibaba had chalked up 149 billion yuan -- $21.5 billion -- in sales.
With 12 hours remaining at the time of publish, the total should surpass the record set in 2017.
The 2018 event is the 10th annual 11:11 Global Shopping Festival Alibaba has hosted. The company raked in a total of 168.2 billion yuan -- $25.3 billion -- in GMV last year, breaking 2016 sales by 39 percent. The first 11.11 it hosted in 2009 brought in $7.8 million in GMV.
In 2009, Alibaba founder and former CEO Jack Ma chose November 11 to host a marketing event for his newly stood-up ecommerce site Tmall. He chose the little-known local holiday Singles Day to target a segment of consumers that would potentially have more of a disposable income.
180,000 brands and 200,000 offline smart stores are participating in the shopping event this year from Alibaba's ecosystem in China and around the world. In China, there are more than 300 million internet consumers the event is targeted towards.
Ma, who handed the chief's position over to Daniel Zhang in September, was sitting in the front row of the 11.11 Media Center in Shanghai, which is displaying a live counter of the GMV generated for the entire 24-hour sale, as well as statistics and heat maps of customers from around the world.
At its peak last year, 325,000 orders were being made per second. To handle this volume, and the myriad of other challenges that come with Singles Day, Alibaba is relying heavily on its investments in AI, machine learning, and cloud computing.
Last year, Alibaba's AI-powered customer service robot also handled 95 percent of customer service inquiries during the sale, and the number is expected to be even higher at the end of the 2018 24-hour frenzy.
Disclosure: Asha Barbaschow travelled to 11.11 in Shanghai as a guest of Alibaba.