Alibaba Breaks Sales Record, but There's a Better Online Retailer

While those of us in the U.S. sat staring bleary-eyed at our television screens on Thursday, still trying to make sense of Tuesday's election, Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba (BABA) started smashing its own sales records with a 24-hour shopping marathon that yielded some incredible results of its own.

The event was Singles' Day, a "made up" holiday designed as the "anti-Valentine's Day" to celebrate uncoupled citizens. And not since Beyonce's 2008 ode to "Single Ladies" has such a celebration made so much money (according to MoneyNation, Beyonce's single has reaped just short of $10 million).

Alibaba shares fell slightly in Friday trading. 

Singles' Day saw the Alibaba platform's retailers hauling in $17.8 billion worth of gross merchandise volume (GMV). Still, it's not time to dive into Alibaba's stock. The company has shown signs that growth may be slowing, and a Donald Trump presidency filled with potential anti-China rhetoric might not work in Alibaba's favor. 

Singles' Day dates to the 1990s, but in 2009, Alibaba began to capitalize on the event, promoting it as China's answer to Black Friday in the U.S., when the retailers using the company's shopping platforms offer hefty discounts.

Traditionally, as opposed to the West's holiday season, the period before the Lunar New Year, which occurs in January or February, has been sluggish for retailers in China and other parts of Asia.

But Singles' Day has caught on fast, leading Alibaba to re-label it as a "Global Shopping Festival." The event incorporates a good bit of theater, as well, as B-list Western celebrities entertaining shoppers with a gala broadcast during the sale.

This year also marked the first time that shoppers in Taiwan and Hong Kong could participate in the deals, and analysts are expecting Alibaba to roll out the event to the rest of the world in the future.

Western lifestyle brands such as Nike and Apple were among those popular with sale shoppers. And an estimated 90% of shoppers used their smartphones to make at least one transaction during the event, according to analysts at KPMG.

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The gross merchandising volume is expected to eclipse Black Friday sales, which are expected to clock in around $3 billion. 

Yet the 26% growth rate for Single's Day was considerably slower than last year. The nearly $18 billion total was also a miss from Wall Street's expected GMV of $20 billion.

In 2015, GMV for Single's Day tallied at $14.3 billion -- 60% growth from 2014. 

So while this year's results were record breaking, they weren't as breathtaking as some within and outside the company would have expected. Alibaba has its own fair share of problems, not the smallest of them being a Trump presidency. The president-elect has threatened to tear up trade deals with China.

Keep an eye on U.S.-based e-commerce retailer Amazon, instead. This stock is certainly a beast, but Amazon is intent on growing its business further. There's still more profit potential here, believe it or not.

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The author is an independent contributor who at the time of publication owned none of the stocks mentioned.

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