November 13, 2017
4 min read time

China’s Singles’ Day breaks e-commerce records; ready for peak traffic?


In the years since the 1990s, when Singles’ Day was launched in China to rival Valentine’s Day, it has ramped up to not only rival but completely crush famous, volume-heavy shopping events, such as Black Friday. In the last few years, Singles’ Day, which takes place annually on 11 November, has become a countrywide online shopping spree, with each year far surpassing the last in online sales.

Alibaba, China’s biggest online retailer, has led the charge, raking in over 18.2 billion USD in 2016. This year, they saw more than 1.5 billion USD in the first three minutes of sales (which begin each year at midnight on the 11 November). Overall this year’s buying spree is estimated to have brought in over 25 billion USD in just 24 hours. This figure leaves the entire Black Friday through Cyber Monday weekend in the dust. Last year’s numbers for just the one 24-hour period of Singles’ Day for the one retailer, Alibaba, was almost double the sales across all online retail platforms throughout the entire busy Black Friday weekend. (This year’s Singles’ Day numbers did double last year’s Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend take.)

For a reality check, Twitter came alive with some reflections that put these numbers into perspective:

As some analysts point out, China has never had the “high street” shopping tradition that exists in the US and UK, and leads online e-commerce globally (with some consumers in China stating matter-of-factly: “There is no life without online shopping”). And the mania is starting to reach outside of China as well as several Chinese retailers make inroads in the US and Europe.

Powering Singles’ Day shopping: Being e-commerce ready

Some of what enabled 2017’s Singles’ Day sales were things like enabling physical stores across China with facial recognition technology to process payments, which is only going to become more common. (Alibaba is following in online giant Amazon’s footsteps also in acquiring and developing more brick-and-mortar, physical outposts, despite the bulk of their business being done online. As Alibaba’s CEO stated, the final sums indicated not just a triumph of online sales but a representation of “how merchants and consumers alike have now fully embraced the integration of online and offline retail”).

But this is not the whole story. Technology has to power these purchases and ensure smooth user experiences and successful end-to-end e-commerce transactions. The massive traffic that hit Alibaba on Singles’ Day was managed with stability - reaching 175,000 transactions per second at peak last year and an astounding 325,000 per second this year. Alibaba Cloud is proprietary and built for purpose to scale up for the demands it faces using Apsara, Alibaba’s cloud computing platform. A single Apsara cluster can be scaled up to 10,000 servers with a total of 1 billion gigabytes worth of data storage and analysis capacity.

How can you prepare for peak?

Alibaba and its infrastructure is impressive - but most e-commerce sites are not going to need quite the firepower that keeps Alibaba going. Still, though, in the 2017 edition of Mary Meeker’s annual internet trends report, e-commerce is growing +15% year on year, and only accelerating. These days, geography doesn’t matter - global consumers want to be able to see and buy stuff from everywhere.

You will need to think about your customer base and predictions for Black Friday and address your own scalability and high availability needs to ensure high performance and reliability on the big day (for most retailers in the US and UK that will be the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend).

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