Sales of smutty soaps, canned meat and knock-off cosmetics shot up in China on Wednesday as 4.6 million, mainly young men, were warned off the beloved Black Friday—known in the West as Black Friday—and Cyber Monday sales days by their bosses.
Alibaba’s flagship Singles Day sale, which coincides with the Chinese new year holiday, generates about $30 billion in revenue each year, making it the world’s biggest online sales day. But in recent years its sales have dropped as competitors stepped up competition on e-commerce platforms, and individual Chinese took time off from work. Some retailers, especially women, complained that Singles Day “was getting boring.”
The elderly version of Cyber Monday—called a “Tinderella” or “Jucapong” by Chinese social media users—was dropped as part of an effort by Alibaba to make Singles Day more inclusive. “Singles Day sales are not aimed at everybody; we still wish to provide everyone with the first-class shopping experience,” Alibaba chief executive Daniel Zhang said last year.
But that change in “kindness” did not convince everyone. “Tinderella won’t save us,” said one commenter on social media site Weibo. “Tinderella just means peddling these vile things at a price some people can’t afford.”
For some workers, the anti-Singles Day announcement was a reprieve from workplace pressures that had grown unbearable. One comment posted by a southern Chinese microblog called Weibo, which boasts more than 100 million registered users, read: “Hello colleagues! I feel horny. Help me get off work early and check out today. We shouldn’t work with such guys and push ourselves too hard; we should celebrate our baby sisters and moms for protecting us.”
The promise of a night of greasy Chinese food and booze may have eased fears. As the party moved into its fourth year, a panel of shoppers from the Shaanxi province openly argued about whether they should grab Sichuan steamed pork buns or Sichuan pepper pork casserole, a deal where $31.50 equals two items.
By mid-day, groups of women and more than a handful of men crammed in a dark dimly lit room, packed with bottled water, snacks and copies of Alibaba’s Singles Day rules.
Wearing a bright red shirt, a bright pink skirt and a red cardigan that boasted “Grill me all day long and I’ll fall in love,” Zhang, the company’s president, took a large a hand cradling a teacup as she conducted a brief chat with the two topless male volunteers behind him.
Feeling a little bad about not being on the internet and scrounging around for goods, though, was not an excuse, she said. “No, you can’t enjoy these things on the company’s time.”
For some male employees, the company’s three-hour Super Fire sale, a department store in Southeast China’s Hainan province that has also been shut out by sales warnings, was just what they were looking for.
“I am all alone with my parents’ baby girl, and during work the market in Shanghai shut down,” said Wang Qiliang, one of the sales assistants. “But in Hainan, the market got slammed the day before. The store was a little wild, I could use a spark.”
It would be near midnight when Wang reached the end of the Super Fire sale, clearing over $400 worth of goods with the help of two young, all-female shoppers. But Wang still has an item in his back pocket. “I haven’t bought it yet but I plan to,” he said. “These terrible sales are a windfall.”
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