The big news yesterday was that the so-called Singles' Day festival by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), posted a record 120.7 billion yuan ($17.73 billion) worth of sales, a 32 percent rise from 2015. The sales reached $5 billion in an hour, breaking previous years' records.
Held every year on 11 November (that is why it is also called Double Eleven), Singles' Day was first celebrated in the 1990s by young, single Chinese students as an anti-Valentine's Day and an excuse to buy themselves presents.
In 2009, Alibaba started using the date to offer discounts at retailers on its e-commerce platforms, and, in the last few years, Singles' Day became a proper shopathon with allegedly more power to sell goods than the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales days in the United States combined.
This year the advertising campaign lasted roughly one month, and included promotions and entertainment programs and virtual reality games to allow consumers to pre-order products and pay later.
Thanks to virtual reality, Chinese consumers were also able to buy products from Macy's in New York and Tokyo's Otaku Mode.
The sales were officially launched with a star-studded countdown gala in Shenzhen, including a performance by One Republic, and featuring appearances by Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, sports celebrity David Beckham and his wife, fashion designer Victoria Beckham, and basketball legend Kobe Bryant, while Alibaba group founder Jack Ma performed a magic trick during the show.
There are issues linked with Alibaba, from very small profit margins (Alibaba doesn't take a cut of sales from its merchants but makes profit on a small commission and fees from advertising) to the fact that sales figures may be inflated, without even touching upon more painful issues going from the conditions in which some goods sold on the Alibaba platforms are produced to the fakes, with the group failing to address the problem of vendors selling fake goods on its online marketplace.
Yet Singles' Day has been an interesting barometer to help identifying new trends, including the fact that many Chinese consumers are using smartphones to shop. But there is also another trend that should be registered: Alibaba also launched a series of live events with beauty and fashion YouTubers to support Singles' Day.
Some of their clips and live presentations looked more like commercial TV shows than stylish programmes, but the entire phenomenon makes you think.
When fashion bloggers first arrived on the scene they were considered as potentially disruptive elements that may have finally shed a light on what was going on behind the scenes of a system that, for a long time, had been accessible only to selected professional figures.
As the years passed, the most high profile bloggers were co-opted back into the system, launching collaborations and capsule collections, taking over the Twitter and Instagram accounts of specific fashion houses, publishing sponsored posts on their sites, and being invited to sit on the front row of major shows. Well, after all, we all have bills to pay, and some extra money here and there always helps.
In a few cases some luxury companies and fashion houses have grown friendly with a few fashion bloggers, especially with those ones keen on going to their events (flights and hotel paid) without criticizing anything (yes, the same happens to mainstream fashion magazines...).
If you think about it, though, this practice generates clicks and media revenue, fills the screens of our computers and mobile devices with beautiful pictures and produces desire. But sales in such cases may still be a volatile concept. Why? The explanation is simple: a fashion brand gives a bag to a high profile blogger who advertises it in stylish pictures, but once you go and check if you can buy that bag it may be too expensive for you, so, after considering the possibility of going without food for a month, you decide not to buy it.
A new, younger, and faster generation of YouTubers and influencers is instead quite keen on reviewing cheap products or more willing to be co-opted by new and powerful forces such as Alibaba and they may be reaching out to millions of consumers who may turn into real buyers.
You may argue that Alibaba may not be a luxury group and it doesn't represent the heritage, high quality and craftsmanship guaranteed by a conglomerate offering an expensive handmade product, but in a saturated market and in a global world with a weak economy and inexistent income growth for many consumers out there, there will be considerably more people who can afford what's on Alibaba's platforms but won't be able to buy anything in a designer boutique.
And while the two entities - high luxury group/fashion house VS Alibaba - may not be the same, it looks like the latter has been hitting all the right keys, using virtual reality for that frisson of added consumer fun, dragging on their side celebrities with mass appeal and popular international brands, and offering cheap bargains. In a nutshell, while the biggest and powerful fashion houses may be pampering, sponsoring and giving presents to a few loyal high profile people, Alibaba may end up reaching higher numbers.
Yet young influencers are not the only ones happy to jump on the Alibaba bandwagon and, sooner or later, fashion designers will follow. Our bets are on Jeremy Scott, who in between copying, borrowing ideas and being copied, seems to be the most likely fashion designer to end up being the star of the next Singles' Day.