15 photos that show what goes on behind the scenes of Singles’ Day, China’s biggest shopping festival that beats Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined

China Singles' Day Packages
Workers distribute express parcels at a logistics centre of China Post during Alibaba Group's Singles' Day global shopping festival on November 11, 2016 in Ganyu, Jiangsu Province of China.
  • Singles' Day is China's spending event of the year, with sales reaching a record $115 billion in 2020.
  • As consumers shop, ecommerce employees and delivery companies work overtime to keep the spree going.
  • Distribution centers bear the brunt of the workload and have to move billions of packages in days.

Singles' Day proper started in China on Thursday, marking the beginning of the country's largest online spending fest.

While this year's event included a discount period on November 1, the true 24-hour sales frenzy traditionally launches on November 11, when consumers flood online shopping platforms like Alibaba's Taobao and its rival JD.com.

Despite a crackdown this year from Beijing on lavish spending and consumer waste, reports creeping in from local media indicate Singles' Day is still going strong, with 382 brands each hitting $15 million in sales since the start of this year's event.

Here are some photos that show how China moves billions of packages to hundreds of cities on its biggest spending day.

Singles' Day sends China's logistics and delivery companies into overdrive. China shipped nearly four billion packages during last year's festival.
Chinese parcel sorting

At the event's peak last year, Alibaba handled 583,000 orders per second, the company said in a press release.

Alibaba traditionally gathers employees at a data center in its Hangzhou headquarters to watch soaring sales volumes.
China Singles' Day Alibaba Headquarters

Chinese shoppers spent a record $115 billion on Singles' Day in 2020, according to CNBC, easily trouncing the $9 billion Americans spent online on Black Friday and $10.84 billion on Cyber Monday.

Alibaba would traditionally boast its sales numbers in real-time to the public, though it's not doing so this year.
China Singles' Day monitoring 2020

The ecommerce giant said it's focusing on sustainability, supporting charities, and promoting sales for poorer consumers this year, reported The Associated Press, falling in line with Xi Jinping's push against extravagant wealth and environmental waste.

Alibaba did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

On Singles' Day, delivery company employees often work through the night, like these office workers in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province, in 2017.
Chinese company Singles' Day working overnight
Livestreaming has been embraced by Alibaba, which promotes presenters who peddle products on broadcasted discount frenzies.
China Livestreaming Singles' Day

One livestreamer, dubbed the "Lipstick King," sold $1.7 billion worth of products in 12-hour broadcast leading up to Singles' Day.

But the real chaos occurs at the distribution centers, where Singles' Day is the overtime event of the year for workers.
Chinese workers on Singles' Day

Some distribution centers hire temporary staff to help with sorting goods, often recruiting college students looking to earn some extra cash, state media CCTV reported.

According to CCTV, one center in the city of Hefei hired 60 temporary workers to help with Singles' Day, on top of the 100 full-time staffers it employed.

Not all packages are sorted through big distribution plants - sometimes deliverymen have to sift through the orders on the street.
Singles' Day makeshift logistics station
Delivery workers, who are paid around 16 cents per order, have been increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer number of parcels on Singles' Day, according to Chinese media.
China Singles' Day Package Organizing

One delivery worker in Beijing said he was tasked with delivering 400 orders per day during last year's event, which is nearly triple his normal workload, reported local news outlet Ran Caijing.

He said the target is physically impossible to complete, but that his delivery company has stepped up penalties for workers who can't finish their orders on time, per Ran Caijing.

Workers in several provinces went on strike to protest their low wages and work conditions, unhappy that the boost in spending has forced them to work harder without any profit, The New York Times reported.

Express delivery, known as "Kuai Di" in China, and one-day waiting times have become an almost everyday expectation for Chinese consumers.
China Singles' Day
Delivery trucks hauling hundreds of packages through the winter snow are a common sight in Chinese cities after Singles' Day.
China Trucks Singles' Day 2019
In 2016, delivery companies began using bullet trains to send goods to more than 500 cities when Singles' Day quotas started ballooning year after year.
China Singles' Day Bullet Trains

Courier companies haven't said how much they spend on partnering with railway companies, but China's Express Association estimated they would move around one billion parcels on bullet trains for Singles' Day, per state media, and that was in 2016.

In 2020, railway companies said they organized 1,000 trains to deliver Singles' Day goods along 600 routes, according to China Daily.

Many deliverymen regularly use electric rickshaws to ferry items between neighborhoods. When Singles' Day arrives, they fill their rides to the brim.
China Electric Rickshaws for Singles' Day

 

 

The rickshaw cab and the carton behind provide delivery guys with more space to stuff their vehicles with goods.
China Singles' Day Rickshaw 2021
And it wouldn't be Singles' Day in China without deliverymen whizzing through the streets on electric bikes, which are a main staple of the delivery industry there.
China Singles' Day Deliveryman
Some consumers, mainly college students, choose to receive their parcels at designated pick-up points, forming massive queues on Singles' Day.
Students lining up for Singles' Day collection

 

 

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