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How Singles' Day Became Biggest Shopping Spree Ever: QuickTake

 Workers distribute express parcels at a logistics centre of China Post

 Workers distribute express parcels at a logistics centre of China Post

Photographer: Visual China Group via Getty Images

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Singles’ Day is the world’s biggest shopping event. In less than a decade, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. turned a quirky celebration for unmarried young adults in China into a global extravaganza drawing in thousands of retailers and hundreds of millions of shoppers of all ages -- hitched or otherwise. It’s spread to other e-commerce operators and will include more brick-and-mortar stores. The big unknown: To what extent, if any, the brewing U.S.-China trade war will cut into Singles’ Day sales.

When Nov. 11 is written numerically -- 11/11 -- the four digits evoke “bare branches,” the Chinese expression for the unattached. On Chinese university campuses in the 1990s, 11/11 evolved into a celebration of being single in a culture that emphasizes relationships -- an antidote to Valentine’s Day. The country’s rising middle class turned that into a phenomenon.