Emerging in China as a light-hearted protest against Valentine’s Day, Singles’ Day has evolved into the biggest individual shopping day in the world, with singletons flocking to the internet to buy gifts for themselves or fellow unmarried friends.

Why are we talking about this now?

Today is Singles’ Day in China – an anti-Valentine’s Day celebration when the unattached gather together and celebrate, or lament, being single. But it’s not just partying that’s on the agenda, singletons are also indulging in retail therapy as they take advantage of discounts and deals offered by etailers.

How did Singles’ Day emerge?

According to various sources in and out of China, the idea behind Singles’ Day emerged on university campuses in the 1990s, when young people celebrated their singlehood by socialising, exchanging gifts or buying themselves something special. In 2009, China’s largest online trading platform Alibaba Group decided to cash in on the opportunity, offering discounts and money-off deals on 27 brands.

What types of gifts are bought on Singles’ Day?

Everything from boyfriend body pillows and hoodies that read ‘I am single because I am fat’, to kitchen utensils, wines, and even BMWs are included in etailers’ Singles’ Day deals.

How much is the day worth?

Since the trend was seriously monetised in 2009, online sales in China from Singles’ Day have grown to the point where it exceeded Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2012 – the two biggest shopping days in the US combined. This year, the celebration is projected to be even bigger, resulting in over $5bn of total sales.

Alibaba’s two ecommerce sites, Tmall and Taobao Marketplace, are expecting sales of at least $4.9bn, according to a report by the Chinese news agency Xinhua, and some sources suggest the websites recorded a staggering 340,000 sales transactions within the first minute of the annual online shopping spree.

How widespread could Singles’ Day become?

Today more than 20,000 brands will be offering deep discounts, including many Western companies eager to cash in on the phenomenon. According to adage.com, Microsoft launched a Tmall flagship in March and is taking part in Singles’ Day for the first time, and French luxury skin-care brand Clarins has also joined the marketplacer.

Other retailers participating in Singles’ Day include Amazon.com, Gap, and Toys R Us. In the future don’t be surprised to see Singles’ Day staring to appearing in singletons’ calendars outside of China as etailers around the world recognise the money-making potential of the holiday.