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What is Singles Day?

SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 10: A general view of atmosphere at 2017 Alibaba Singles' Day Global Shopping Festival gala at Mercedes-Benz Arena on November 10, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images) VCG/VCG via Getty Images

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday get all the attention in the U.S., China’s Singles Day puts them both to shame. Last year, more items were bought during the 24 hours of Singles Day than the entire combined Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in the states.

The event, conceived and organized by Alibaba, is the biggest commerce day in the world. But what is Singles Day? And what has it spawned? Here are a few answers to commonly asked questions.

What is Singles Day about?

Call it the anti-Valentine’s Day. The date 11/11 is significant because of the solitary implications of the number 1. And it was originally meant for people who wanted to celebrate being single. Though, much like National Pancake Day and Labor Day, it has turned into more of a retail event.

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SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 10: Singer Jessie J performs on the stage during 2017 Alibaba Singles' Day Global Shopping Festival gala at Mercedes-Benz Arena on November 10, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images) VCG VCG via Getty Images

How did it get started?

Singles Day first popped up in the mid-90s. But it really came into prominence in 2009, when Alibaba began using it as a tent pole event to promote retailer discounts on its e-commerce platforms.

Is it tied, somehow, to Amazon’s Prime Day?

Not specifically — though Jeff Bezos certainly used Singles Day as a model of success. Amazon’s one-day sales event, like Singles Day, takes place during a time where, previously, there was a lull in that retailer’s world. By focusing its marketing efforts on a single day, apart from the din of holiday advertising, it’s able to stand out from the pack.

Dollarwise, there’s no comparison. Amazon’s Prime Day netted somewhere between $1 billion and $2.2 billion this year, according to CNBC.

Is it just a one-day event?

Come on. Does any successful retail event not suffer from sprawl? Walk-up deals started appearing three weeks before the actual day this year.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 10: Blue Man Group performs on the stage during 2017 Alibaba Singles' Day Global Shopping Festival gala at Mercedes-Benz Arena on November 10, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images) VCG VCG via Getty Images

How much money does Alibaba make?

Last year, Alibaba grossed $17.8 billion in sales on Singles Day. And it hopes to top that in 2017 with the offer of a lifetime supply of alcohol for just $1,673.

To put a number that big into perspective, here’s how Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang described it in 2015 on the company blog: “Back in 2013, $5.14 billion was our one-day GMV. Now we can achieve it in one hour.”

In the first hour of Singles’ Day that year, orders came in 175,000 per second.

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