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China Watch: Online Shopping Spree

TAPEI, Taiwan ( TheStreet) -- China doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, but its version of the day-after e-commerce shopping spree makes American bargain bounty hunters look like cheap turkeys. And China's e-commerce market isn't even fully stuffed yet.

Driven by social-media hype, on Monday Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (ALBIY) broke its record for its annual single-day shopping spree as about 20,000 of its Tmall vendors cut prices in half on merchandise from clothes to smartphones, official media reported.

Alibaba had logged transactions of about 19.1 billion yuan ($3.13 billion) by just 1 p.m. on Monday, more often called "singles day" because of the date's four ones, cruising its way to about 35 billion yuan total for the occasion. The country's flagship e-commerce provider kicked off singles day in 2009, becoming a sensation among the country's 600 million Internet users.

Other e-commerce companies in the competitive field have jumped in behind Alibaba, which logged 402 million unique users on singles day, to get a piece of the annual frenzy. That all means e-commerce is growing, will grow and must grow. Shopping by mouse click works for China largely because consumers are trying to ease off congested urban streets between their homes and stores. The prices aren't bad, either, and despite tales of massive wealth in China, most people only aspire to it at best.

Growth of Internet content providers has further helped to steer shoppers toward e-commerce, giving rise to Alibaba and peers such as Nasdaq-listed (DANG) and under the globally familiar (AMZN).

The popularity of the Internet -- still growing in a huge country where the popularity of consumer tech products is spreading in secondary cities -- fuels the growth of e-commerce sites. Meanwhile, growth in Chinese social media, the government-filtered equivalents of Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR), has also helped promote the Nov. 11 spree.

"Today was totally expected given the explosion of e-commerce in China," says Darren Burns, China managing director with the public-relations firm Weber Shandwick. "This was further driven by the hype and discussion on social media in the lead up, and the consumer benefits offered by retailers are also very strong.

"But think about this," he adds. "Internet penetration is still only just over 40%. The growth potential as more people come online is simply enormous. We ain't seen nothing yet."

Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma forecast a spike in consumer appetite this year. He indicated before the end of singles day that the value of transactions on Tmall and its customer-to-customer Taobao e-commerce platform that day would exceed 30 billion yuan, up 60% over the same day last year, the China Daily newspaper reports.

That amount dwarfs what people in the U.S. spent last year in e-commerce the Monday after Thanksgiving, another annual spree driven by price drops. China lacks a major public holiday in November or December.

Share prices of and both got a lift Monday, as investors may rightly imagine transactions will grow in China where e-commerce revenue comes to as much as $210 billion per year behind only the U.S.

At the time of publication, the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

Ralph Jennings is on LinkedIn.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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