• Analysts expect this year’s event to top 2016’s record
  • Event kicks off with star-studded gala with Pharrell Williams

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. kicked off its annual Singles’ Day shopping bonanza, logging $8.6 billion in sales within the first hour.

Shoppers from at least 192 countries and regions swarmed the e-commerce giant to scoop up discounted lobster, iPhones and refrigerators, at a rate of as many as 256,000 transactions per second. The Chinese company hosted a star-studded gala enlisting tennis star Maria Sharapova and American rapper Pharrell Williams to pump sales. As the event got underway, 93 percent of transactions were done via mobile.

Analysts are expecting another record day on Alibaba’s platforms, with Citigroup Inc. predicting a 31 percent rise in transactions to 158 billion yuan ($23.8 billion). While that’s only half of last year’s growth rate, it still dwarfs other events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Billionaire founder Jack Ma is using this year’s event as a testing ground for his plans to revamp China’s $4 trillion traditional retail sector with technology, an experiment that could help the behemoth gain an edge in China’s saturated retail market.

“The work that’s been done in the integration of offline and online, not just in terms of the technology integration, but the data and efficiencies for brands and the consumer through personalization has been enormous,” Alibaba President Mike Evans said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. “We see the impact of it in our day-to-day business.”

Nov. 11 emerged as a counter-cultural antidote to the sentimentality surrounding Valentine’s Day. It takes its name from the way the date is written numerically as 11/11, which resembles “bare branches,” a local expression for the unattached.

Shopping Bonanza

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