In the United States online consumers let loose on Cyber Monday; and in China shoppers
run wild on what is known there as “Singles’ Day.” This year Singles’ Day saw online shoppers shell out over $14 billion within only the first two hours of commencement, flying past last year’s record of $25 billion in sales for the entire 24 hours.
Singles’ Day began ten years ago as a bit of a joke when unmarried students honored choose November 11, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, or also known as “Double 11” day to celebrate their own single status. The ad hoc holiday was co-opted by retailers, creating a day of online buying and sales.
China’s own version of Twitter, Weibo, was swarming wit
h posts about Singles’ Day; some saying how proud they were to have resisted the temptation to make a purchase, while others bragged about the great deals they got.
Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, the platform where the crazy commerce took place, said that Singles Day is “not a day of discounts, but rather a day of gratitude. Speaking in a video which was shown at the start of the party celebrating the event he added, “It’s when retailers use the best products and best prices to show their gratitude to our consumers.”
Not everyone agrees that Singles’ Day is a day of gratitude. One economics professor, Hong Tao of Beijing Technology and Business University, said that the event encourages consumers to prefer cheap prices over high quality, causing them to buy things they definitely do not need.
“People are swept up in the festivities,” Hong said in a phone interview. “This burst of consumption, confined to just one day, can be exhausting for both buyers and sellers.”
There is also a negative environmental impact to all the unneeded buying. Although Alibaba and its close competitor JD.com have both promised to use packaging that is recyclable, research done by Greenpeace East Asia said much of the plastic that is marked as biodegradable and used by Chinese online sellers, really needs extremely high temperatures in order to fully break down. Those recycling facilities are scattered across China, and in small numbers. Greenpeace said that they are forecasting that within just two years this so-called “biodegradable” packaging might account for about 721 truckloads of garbage produced every single day in China.