For four straight hours on Sunday night, I thought I was hallucinating.
All the warning signs were there. A group of people were dancing inside a giant elephant suit. Then an enormous blue cupcake with eyes and legs ran onto a stage in front of 17,000 people at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.
The hip hop ensemble in Victorian-era army regalia only confirmed matters. By the time Mickey Mouse arrived and a beautiful woman sung ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen in Chinese, I was convinced there was something in the complimentary bottle of Nongfu Spring on the desk.
When former supermodel Miranda Kerr walked and attempted to sing, I knew I had gone to a special place.
I was watching this enormously entertaining extravaganza on a screen roughly the size of a three storey building with 600 other journalists from the world.
All of it playing out in honour of the biggest shopping festival in the world – Alibaba’s ‘11.11’ – held every year on November 11, to celebrate the single people of the world.
The 24 hour shopping festival, which targets 800 million internet users in China, made a truly astronomical NZ$35 billion in sales last year
The scale is hard to comprehend. On last year’s numbers, the equivalent of NZ$400,000 New Zealand dollars will pour in every second. Alibaba will tally NZ$121 million in the five minutes it takes you to read this story.
By comparison, Amercia’s two biggest sale days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, did NZ$4.4 billion and NZ$5.5 billion respectively last year.
Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang founded the shopping phenomenon 10 years ago, jumping on the then little-known event ‘Single’s Day’. The unofficial holiday is a celebration of single people, a kind of anti-Valentine’s Day uniting the millions of single people in China, affected by the Government’s controversial ‘one-child’ policy.
On the first year, only a handful of brands were involved and the sale grossed just NZ$11.49 million. Since then it’s widened its focus, offering discounts of up to 50 percent to the general public, involving 180,000 brands from 75 countries to 800 million Chinese internet consumers.
A small group of New Zealand companies are looking to cash in, offering special deals on things like milk and manuka honey for double 11.
Alibaba’s New Zealand and Australia representative, Maggie Zhou, says there is now huge demand for high quality products from overseas.
“China today actually is transforming from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Consume in China’,” she said.
“Today in China there are 300 million middle class people and among that 100 million ‘new middle class’ and those people are young people… They love to explore more and want to buy more high quality products, especially from New Zealand.”
Back at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, the anticipation was building throughout the night as the acts continued to roll on through.
Men donned giant inflatable suits and played a game of basketball. Mariah Carrey sung a medley in front of men in sparkly green suits.
Then, the moment – the clock struck midnight, and the world’s biggest sale roared into the action in tune with the scream of the crowd.
The tally another apparent hallucination – sales reached US$1 billion (NZ$1.4 billion) in 85 seconds.