The gross merchandise value (GMV) generated by Alibaba's 11th Singles Day hit a record of 268.4 billion yuan renmimbi (€34.7bn-$38.3bn), eclipsing last year's score by 26 percent, thanks in part to a longer pre-sales period, a larger assortment of discounted products, the extension of the festival to new markets outside China and a wider use of live-streaming from Alibaba's Tmall platform.

The year-on-year increase was a little lower than the jump recorded one year ago. Blaming warm weather that discouraged sales of winter apparel, Jack Ma, Alibaba's co-founder and former chief executive, admitted that this year's Double Eleven had failed to meet the company's expectations.

The figures given by the company, which are not audited, were still impressive. Alibaba claimed that sales reached a level of RMB 7 billion (€0.9bn-$1.0bn) in the first minute and eight seconds, and RMB 84 billion (€10.9bn-$12.0bn) in the first hour. The traffic generated in the first ten hours was higher than the total booked a year ago.

One million new products were launched through the 24-hour event on Nov. 11, according to Alibaba, and more than half of the merchants trading on Tmall used live-streaming to sell products for Singles Day. Allbirds took part in the sales for the first time. Stuart Weitzman was among the brands that offered special deals for the occasion.

More than 200,000 brands participated in the shopping event, compared with 180,000 last year. The top sellers included foreign players such as Gap, H&M, Uniqlo, Nike, Adidas and The North Face. They were among the 300 brands whose sales topped RMB 100 million (€12.9m-$14.3m). The 24-hour shopping bonanza was in fact a truly global event: The goods sold to Chinese customers on Alibaba's cross-border platform came from brands located in Japan, the U.S., South Korea, Australia and Germany.

Over 500 million users were expected to participate in the event, or around 100 million more than last year. A live performance by Taylor Swift, the American pop star, added to the 24-hour festival.

“We are meeting the growing demand of Chinese consumers and helping them upgrade their lifestyles, while introducing new users to our digital economy from across China and around the world,” said Fan Jiang, president of Taobao and Tmall, noting that the event “showed the world what the future of consumption looks like for brands and consumers.”

An environmental twist to Singles Day

The hype around Singles Day was softened by a call for the implementation of new packaging and package recycling standards by Greenpeace in Beijing, which estimates last year's fest generated 250,000 tons of waste from the delivery of 1.88 billion packages to Chinese customers in five days. Greenpeace estimates that the waste accumulated annually by e-commerce and express delivery services in China will more than quadruple to 41.3 million tons by 2025, adding that only 5 percent of the related plastic packaging is recycled.

Last month, the Chinese government published new proposals for packaging standards that would restrict courier services to use certain recyclable materials. For its part, Alibaba and its couriers have set up 75,000 recycling stations for shipping boxes and bags throughout the country. It has declared Nov. 20 “National Cardboard Box Recycling Day,” encouraging customers to turn in boxes at certain recycling stations in return for “green energy” points that can be redeemed to plant trees in arid areas of China.