(Corrects first-hour sales figure to 84 bln yuan ($12 bln), not 91.2 bln yuan ($13 bln), corrects increase to 22%, not 32%.)
* Singles Day sales hit $1 bln mark in 1 minute, 8 seconds
* Alibaba event is akin to Black Friday and Cyber Monday
* Shopping festival raked in $30 bln in 2018
By Josh Horwitz
HANGZHOU, China, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Inc said on Monday that sales for its annual Singles’ Day shopping blitz hit 84 billion yuan ($12 billion) within the first hour, up 22% from last year’s early haul of 69 billion yuan.
Akin to Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, Singles’ Day has been promoted as a shopping fest by Alibaba Chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang since 2009, growing rapidly to become the world’s biggest online sales event.
Also known as “Double Eleven”, the festival’s name originates from the calendar date 11/11, with the four ones referencing being single.
Alibaba saw sales worth $30 billion on its platforms on Singles’ Day last year, dwarfing $7.9 billion U.S. online sales for Cyber Monday. Yet the 27% sales growth was the lowest in the event’s 10-year history, spurring a search for fresh ideas.
The $486 billion Chinese retail juggernaut kicked off this year’s 24-hour shopping fest with performances by American pop star Taylor Swift and local celebrities like Jackson Yee.
Sales hit the $1 billion mark in the first minute and eight seconds, Alibaba said. Singles’ Day was among the top trending topics on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday morning, with users discussing what they spent on.
Alibaba has said it expects over 500 million users to participate in the shopping festival this year, about 100 million more than last year.
This is the first time Alibaba’s Singles’ Day does not have flamboyant co-founder Jack Ma at its helm, after he resigned in September as chairman.
It also comes at a crucial time for the company, which is looking to raise up to $15 billion via a share sale in Hong Kong this month.
Alibaba continues to dominate the online shopping industry, but not without competition.
In addition to longtime rival JD.com, it now faces competition from upstart Pinduoduo, which surged in popularity in 2017 by targeting consumers in China’s lower-tier cities. ($1 = 6.9954 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Josh Horwitz in Hangzhou; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Himani Sarkar)