Jack Ma's e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) has smashed its Singles' Day sales record with another huge number.
According to its Singles' Day live updates site, Alibaba blew past its major milestone at 3:20 p.m. CST, 15 hours and 19 minutes into the sale, total gross merchandise volume (GMV) hit RMB 91.2 billion ($14.3 billion), surpassing the GMV total for the 24-hour sale last year.
The Chinese e-commerce conglomerate brought in RMB 10 billion ($1.4 billion) in less than seven minutes, and broke $5 billion before the first hour was up, according to Asia-focused technology news website TechinAsia. Last year, it took them 90 minutes to get to $5 billion, TechinAsia said.
"Chinese consumers purchased more in the first hour of 11.11 this year than the entire 24 hours in 2013, reflecting the incredible evolution of our global shopping festival. This unprecedented level of engagement demonstrates both the consumption power of Chinese consumers and their embrace of online shopping as a lifestyle," said Daniel Zhang, chief executive officer of Alibaba Group in a press release today.
The shopping blitz offering massive discounts online famously dwarfed the combined sales figures of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. for all retailers in 2015. This year's pace seems to suggest that Alibaba could finish well above its mark, topping analysts' expectations once again.
But while Alibaba is set to blow all single-day sales records out of the water, especially after expanding the once single-day event to a 24-day extravaganza equipped with celebrity endorsements, performances and a star-studded gala, the company still faces challenges. For one, Alibaba's main e-commerce sites, Taobao and T-Mall are still fighting stigma in its home country due to past experiences selling counterfeit goods. The stigma has allowed other e-commerce players to gain market share and pose a true threat to the company that was at one point the only game in town.
"It [Singles' Day] is a key marketing initiative for Tmall. That's the essential platform as they dilute the importance of Taobao. Vendors have to offer deals or special products to gain marketing support," said Duncan Clark, Chairman and Founder of the consultancy company BDA China who is also author of the book Alibaba The House That Jack Ma Built.
Market research firm Fung Global Retail & Technology expects Alibaba to generate $20 billion for 2016 Singles' Day, up 40% year-over-year based on its extensive marketing campaigns and Chinese online shoppers' demands for overseas goods.
But during a major sales event like Singles' Day, issues such as the proliferation of counterfeits on Alibaba's core e-commerce sites also stand out. While even Amazon (AMZN) itself has growing piracy issues with China sourced vendors for Amazon Prime, Alibaba competitors such as JD.com (JD) have long seized on the counterfeit stigma as a point of differentiation in the market.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy towards counterfeits and while we see other companies talking about not accepting counterfeits but in fact major brands sue them because everyone knows that they do have counterfeits," said Josh Gartner, vice president of international corporate affairs at JD.com.
Pressure for T-mall vendors to offer special perks may come from its main competitor, JD.com. JD is China's largest e-commerce company by revenue. It plans to release its third quarter financial earnings on Nov. 15. The Beijing-headquartered e-commerce site offers same-day or next-day delivery and has an exclusive partnership with the one-stop Chinese chat app Wechat.
The partnership allows JD to tap into the biggest social media platform in China. With 800 million monthly active users, Wechat is Facebook (FB) , Twitter (TWTR) , Instagram, WhatsApp and PayPal (PYPL) all in one.
"The biggest advantage is with people who have never used JD before because they don't need to sign up. Almost everybody who's using Wechat already has their payment information on it. We accept Wechat payment, our competitors don't so we complete the entire transaction extremely quickly," said JD.com's Gartner. "We essentially eliminate the barrier for entry for new users by working together with Wechat."
Despite repeated accusations of selling counterfeits and an ongoing investigation by the Security and the Exchange Commission for allegedly questionable accounting methods, Alibaba seems largely immune to these negative pushbacks. The company reported a revenue growth of 55% to RMB 34.3 billion ($5.1 billion), for the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2016 compared to RMB 22.2 billion in the same quarter of 2015.
Meanwhile, expectations for Alibaba's performance during this year's Singles' Day soar high.
While refusing to disclose a specific sales projection figure for this year, Alibaba demonstrates its aspirations by turning the 24-hour shopping event into a 24-day global shopping festival, which was launched on Oct. 23 with an eight-hour-long fashion show featuring 80 brands presented by 200 models in Shanghai.
Although concerns have arisen with regards to the prolonged shopping period, which may cause weary consumers to lose interest in the originally novel, once-in-a-year event, analysts are positive about this year's results.
"I expect overall volumes in China to grow 25% this quarter and internationally faster than that," said Gil Luria, analyst at Wedbush Securities. "I wouldn't be surprised at all if Singles' Day is at least 25% higher volume than it was last year."
The much-anticipated one-day event was launched by Chinese college students in the 1990s as a way to celebrate their singlehood on Nov.11 where the four ones symbolize bare sticks, a way of describing singletons in China.
Alibaba cashed in on the opportunity and turned it into a shopping extravaganza in 2009. Riding on the momentum of last year's success, Alibaba has rolled many of its digital and innovative elements including a star-studded gala, live streaming, virtual reality and augmented reality into what is now branded as the world's largest 24-hour shopping event, widely known in China as "Double 11."
The company also invited David Hill, who formerly produced events such as the Super Bowl and the Oscars, to direct its Singles' Day countdown gala where a host of international stars including Katy Perry, the global brand ambassador for the gala, will perform. The 4-hour gala is expected to reach a wide audience through its broadcast on Zhejiang's Cable Network as well as China's largest streaming platform YouKu Tudou.
Much of the financial confidence in this year's Singles' Day is also rooted in the company's global aspirations which include introducing Singles' Day to consumers in Hong Kong and Taiwan for the first time and inviting more than 11,000 international brands such as Burberry, Target (TGT) , Maserati and Apple (AAPL) to join the shopping blitz.
Singles' Day sales figures will be an important data point between quarters for Alibaba because they can provide second-by-second updates on volumes for investors, according to Luria.
On the actual day of Singles' Day, Alibaba will provide a live feed of the total volume of transactions processed through its platforms in the 11.11 media center. The online retail giant made $1 billion in just the first 8 minutes of sales in 2015.
"It's the most important day of the year for the company," said Brion Tingler, head of external affairs at Alibaba Group.
Editors' pick: A version of this story was originally published on Oct. 8. It has been updated to reflect recent sales numbers.