Chinese ready for world's biggest shopping day

How online purchases are delivered in China
How online purchases are delivered in China

Get ready, set, shop! Chinese consumers are gearing up for the country's biggest online shopping bonanza of the year.

The holiday -- set for Tuesday -- is called "Singles Day," and started as a way to celebrate single people. It's now morphed into a multi-billion dollar e-shopping frenzy that attracts buyers both single and paired.

Last year, total online sales in China hit $8 billion on Singles Day, more than double the combined $3 billion sold in the U.S. for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

The stage is set for another sales record this year.

The idea of "Singles Day" began as a cheeky antidote to Valentine's Day, and falls on Nov. 11, or 11/11, which represents four single people. On the day, it's common to exchange gifts and eat fried dough strips -- kind of like a churro -- because they look like the number "1."

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Chinese tech giant Alibaba moved to capitalize on the shopping fervor starting in 2009, when it began offering special discounts to lure in more customers.

Since then, the company has brought in staggering sales every year, clocking in at $5.7 billion in 2013.

Alibaba offers deals on everything -- food, apparel, electronics, home appliances, cosmetics and more. Last year, a 13-carat diamond was sold for nearly $4 million.

This year, Alibaba is looking beyond China, partnering with sellers on its online marketplaces to lure shoppers around the globe with bargains.

Although rival e-commerce firms such as also offer discounts and see a high volume of sales, eyes will be on how Alibaba performs. This year's shopping holiday will be the first since the firm posted its $25 billion record-breaking New York IPO.

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Alibaba is on firm footing -- revenue soared 54% in the three months ended September from a year earlier. But experts say the one-day shopping bonanza is gradually having less impact on its annual e-commerce sales. Last year's Nov. 11 sales accounted for 4.8% of annual e-retailing revenue, versus 6.3% in 2012.

That percentage "may be less this year, because online shopping has become more of a daily habit and less of a special occasion," said Jeff Walters of the Boston Consulting Group.

China is already the second-largest online retail market in the world, and the fastest growing. The industry brought in roughly $210 billion in 2012, and is expected to hit $650 billion by 2020, according to McKinsey.

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