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China’s Singles Day sales close with Taylor Swift concert, break last year’s record

(CNN) -- China's annual Singles Day online shopping bonanza has brought in a record $31 billion in sales for Alibaba.

The country's biggest e-commerce company topped last year's record in 16 1/2 hours. The event regularly racks up bigger sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Singles Day is an informal, anti-Valentine's Day holiday in China celebrating people who aren't in relationships. Its date, November 11, was chosen because the date is written as four ones, or singles.

Alibaba started offering Singles Day discounts in 2009 and has since turned the day into a 24-hour bonanza of online shopping in China.

During Singles Day pre-sales, which kicked off three weeks ago, Estée Lauder raked in a record $143 million in pre-orders, Alibaba said on Sunday. Alibaba users also pre-ordered $14 million worth of Apple iPhone 11s, the company said.

This year's Singles Day comes as Alibaba's growth is under pressure from China's slowing economy and the trade war with the United States.

A recent survey from research firm Oliver Wyman found that buyers are expecting to spend nearly 10% more on Singles Day this year compared to 2018. That could be a sign of weakening growth, though. Last year, Alibaba reported a 27% uptick in Singles Day revenue.

"Singles Day is being held up as a bellwether of Chinese consumers' willingness to spend in the face of a domestic slowdown" wrote Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at Oanda, in a note Monday. But "deeply discounting prices always brings consumers out to play, no matter how bad the economy might be," he added.

Workers sort out packages at a delivery company warehouse to be delivered to customers during "Singles' Day" -- the world's biggest 24-hour shopping event -- in Beijing on November 11, 2019. Chinese consumers closed in on a new spending record November 11 during the annual "Singles' Day" frenzy, the world's biggest 24-hour shopping event, which kicked off this year with a glitzy show by US megastar Taylor Swift. (Photo by NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

"We continue to feel very confident about the growth potential of the economy," Alibaba chief marketing officer Chris Tung told CNN in an interview. "We are pushing deeper towards the less developed areas of China, to reach more new online shoppers, so there's a huge untapped opportunity there."

Other Chinese e-commerce platforms like JD.com and regular brick-and-mortar stores also take part, and the event is starting to gain traction outside China. Alibaba's Southeast Asia subsidiary Lazada offers Singles Day discounts in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Brands like Nike and Brooks Brothers are offering Singles Day discounts on their websites in the United States.

But the Singles Day event in China is by far the splashiest.

International companies flock to Alibaba's celebrity-studded live telecast and its various online platforms, eager to hawk everything from liquor to sports cars. Taylor Swift closed out this year's four-hour long show, performing three songs shortly before midnight.

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