Friday 11 November 2016 3:30 pm

Alibaba smashes record sales on Singles Day

E-commerce giant Alibaba has topped its sales record for its annual Singles Day savings event in China.

The biggest retail event in the world totted up $1bn worth of sales in the first five minutes, the retailer claimed, and by 20 hours in had reached $15bn (£12bn) as people snapped up bargains in its annual sale. Total sales are tipped to reach $20 billion by the end of the day.

However, some have claimed the figures are inaccurate, with counterfeit goods playing a part and inflated sales prices in the weeks before the sale raising eyebrows among analysts.

Read more: What can British retailers learn from China's version of Black Friday?

Duncan Clark, chairman of consultancy firm BDA China, estimated that “click farms” — which boost numbers by creating phantom orders — comprised some 20 per cent of GMV in 2014.

“There’s an element of theatre to this, literally,” he said. “There’s going to be a need for greater scrutiny.”

Alibaba has this year appointed PwC to audit its merchandise volume numbers.

The retailer said 85 per cent of sales in the first were made on mobile phones, the company added. It claimed that the sale would feature 6m products from 30,000 brands.

Shoppers experienced a musical festival in the southern Chinese city of Shezhen which was live-streamed with audience interaction commands to customers across the country.

“In the US if you log on to Amazon, it’s a chore,” said Joe Tsai, Alibaba vice-chairman. “But here in China shopping is entertainment.”

The festival, which originated as a celebration for single young Chinese people, was monetized into a shopping bonanza in 2009. Other retailers are hopping on the bandwagon too. Pop star Katy Perry was due to perform in China but had to pull out due a family emergency.

Dr Jimmy Huang, associate professor of information systems at Warwick Business School said that China may have successfully managed to pay into the emotions of customers to reach such record sales.

He said: "We have now entered the 'experience economy' and Alibaba may well be tapping into this with their Singles Day campaign. Users are consuming products or services for more than just utility purposes. For digital ventures it is now a question of understanding your users and being able to provide products, services and apps that fulfil their experience expectations."

Read more: No broken hearts on Singles Day

He added that Alibaba's phone apps had encouraged frequent usage and grown audience dependencies on their product, to the point that some people "live in the apps of Alibaba."

A similar shopping event, Black Friday, will take place across the pond in America on November 25. UK retailers are also expected to slash their prices to entice shoppers to splash the cash in the run-up to Christmas. Consumer appetite is, however, expected to be down considerably for this year's Black Friday.