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Chinese Online Retailer Alibaba Racks Up Sales On Singles Day


China's annual e-commerce buying frenzy is today, Singles Day, on 11/11, or 1-1, 1-1. You get it. Singles Day, today, has set new records. One company, Alibaba, China's e-commerce giant, says it generated more than $10 billion in sales already. That's five times more than all of last year's Cyber Monday sales in America. As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, e-commerce is one of the few bright spots in China's cooling economy.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: To fire up interest in Singles Day, Alibaba turned to an unlikely pitchman, the leader of the free world.


KEVIN SPACEY: (As Frank Underwood) I am the 45th president of the United States, Frank J. Underwood.

LANGFITT: That paid spokesman, of course, is Kevin Spacey of the Netflix series "House Of Cards," which is very popular in China. Isolated in the Oval Office, the president laments being left out of Singles Day.


SPACEY: (As Frank Underwood) Here at the White House, there's so many firewalls blocking me from shopping online that not even the president will be able to take advantage of those amazing deals you'll see online.

LANGFITT: Yun Peng has no such problems. He works in HR in central China. And today Yun bought a refrigerator, a washing machine, an air filter and a stove for his new apartment. In all, he spent nearly $1,300 online, more than his monthly salary.

YUN PENG: (Through interpreter) Now, unless it's something that I have to buy in stores, I buy most things online. And I probably spend more than I did in the past.

LANGFITT: But with China's growth slowing and a mortgage to pay, Yun is also more cautious.

PENG: (Through interpreter) Now money is tight, so I have to control my spending. There are things that I didn't buy, like an electric razor, which looked pretty good, but I have to control myself.

LANGFITT: Singles Day began in the 1990s as a way for young unmarrieds in China to make light of their status and reach out to one another. Now the government hopes it will really boost the economy. Despite e-commerce's dramatic growth, though, many economists say it still isn't big enough to do the trick. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.