Bargain hunters splurged by spending a record 168.2 billion yuan (.3 billion) during this year's Singles Day on Saturday, the world's largest daylong discount gala, as e-commerce giant Alibaba Group took the online shopping spree to brick-and-mortar stores and beyond the nation's borders, banking on China's technological prowess.
Spending surged 39.3 percent during 2017's sale — the ninth iteration of the event — as consumers from 225 countries and regions scooped up goods that included apparel, mobile phones and motor vehicles from 140,000 brands that offered promotions during the annual jamboree.
The tech behemoth broke last year's 120.7 billion yuan total shortly after 1 pm, and gained fresh steam as overseas shoppers joined the fray in the afternoon, seeking good deals from China.
Expanding at a faster-than-expected pace, the total eclipsed the combined sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States last year.
"We want the 'China phenomenon' (in retail) to spread to the whole world," Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said in Shanghai, where a star-studded countdown gala raised the curtain on the festival.
The shopping bonanza, which started as an internet joke based on the day's numerical date looking like four single people, has drawn in other e-commerce players. JD.com reported sales of 127.1 billion yuan during an 11-day promotional period, while NetEase's cross-border site kaola.com saw transactions on Saturday quadruple year-on-year, with no specific figures disclosed.
"It's a celebration of not just online retail but the Chinese (consumer) economy in general," said Matthew Crabbe, Asia-Pacific research director at consultancy Mintel.
The country's clout in mobile payments and intelligent logistics has bolstered that stellar growth, he said.
Nine out of 10 people used mobile wallet apps for payment, said Alibaba, with its Alipay app having handled 1.48 billion transactions in 24 hours and processed them at a peak rate of 256,000 transactions per second.
Meanwhile, robots, algorithms and expanding deployment of overseas warehouses sped the delivery of 812 million parcels at home and abroad.
Some offline shops also joined in, turning into smart stores that allowed shoppers to track product availability at other locations and get timely delivery to their doorsteps while paying with their phone.
"Using big data analytics powered by Chinese tech firms can help us locate ... and retain customers in a precise manner … something we wouldn't have achieved using old-school retailing," said Gary Chu, e-commerce general manager of US cosmetics maker Estee Lauder Group's China operations.
The Nov 11 shopping event has gone beyond a marketing gimmick and represents a China-branded business model that can also be spread to other countries, creating opportunities for businesses worldwide, said Crabbe.
As Singles Day grows, shoppers have used the opportunity to try out new items rather than simply bagging a bargain, said Tommy Hong, vice-president of Nielsen China.
That was the case with Wang Zhi, a university clerk in Shanghai who spent 8,000 yuan purchasing outbound travel packages on sale that weren't available in previous years.
"That changing sentiment (toward Singles Day) also aligns with China's shifting focus from quantity to quality growth," Crabbe said.