THE HUNT BEGINS: A student partakes in the online shopping spree on the night of November 10 in Yangzhou, east China's Jiangsu Province, just before Singles Day (XINHUA)
It was the night of November 10 and the moment I'd been waiting exactly a year for was fast approaching. At the stroke of 12, my actions would determine whether all that careful planning in the two weeks prior had been worth it. Come midnight, the madness that is China's annual November 11 sales would be unleashed.
November 11 is Singles Day in China, the date's lonely digits representing the singleton's plight. Traditionally, it was a day when lonely hearts would gather together to bemoan their solitude and offer each other gifts and succor. In recent years, online retailers have capitalized on the pop culture holiday, marking the occasion with giveaway sales. This practice became a commercial success and the holiday was re-branded as Double 11.
The fateful night was spine-tinglingly cold. The temperature continued to drop, and five days remained before the central heating was to be switched on in Beijing. Nevertheless, as I snuggled up in my blanket and double-checked, then triple-checked, my shopping cart, I felt quietly confident. Well, sort of.
In my quest for bargains, I opted for Taobao.com and Tmall.com, both owned by China's Internet giant Alibaba. This year's 11/11 wasn't my first rodeo. I had learned from my mistakes and vowed never again would I be caught in the same position of helplessness in which I had found myself the year previous. Items in my cart? Check. Money loaded on Alipay? Check. Let the games begin.
I settled down with a book while waiting for the clock to strike 12. Some of the items I placed in my cart had already been marked "invalid." That meant retailers were pulling them off e-shelves so they wouldn't be included in the sales. No matter, I had more than 50 items in my cart (mostly Uniqlo Heattech items to allow me to brace myself for winter), and I had taken it as given that I would not get everything I wanted.
Midnight arrived. And just like that, almost all of my items' prices were, in one fell swoop, slashed. What had been 2,000 yuan ($326) worth of Uniqlo merchandise was now priced just above 1,000 yuan ($163). I clicked the "everything in my cart from this store" button and proceeded to checkout. The Internet was operating at a snail's pace. Clearly, everyone and their dogs in China were online feeding their insatiable appetite for consumer deals, causing the nation's bandwidth speed to slow to a crawl.
Finally! Within a mere 30 seconds, I was through to the next page to confirm my purchases and address. As anticipated, those few seconds had robbed me of some of the choicest selections in my cart. My total was now down to 759 yuan ($124). The Merino wool sweater I had really set my eye on was now unavailable, among other losses, but I had no choice but to press on.
And then, horror of horrors, the page crashed. It was loading fine up until to the payment section but then out of nowhere, it shut down. I stared dumbfounded at the screen in shock. Had I lost all of my goods? I was left with no option but to load my shopping cart a second time. That all-too-familiar feeling of helplessness and dread began to settle in and I could feel panic starting to gnaw its way into my psyche. Almost everything that had been in my cart was now gone.
Repeating the whole process from scratch was heartbreaking. By the time I paid for my stash of Uniqlo booty, my total had come down to 337 yuan ($55) for six items. It was 0:04 a.m.
One trick I had learned from last year's 11/11 was to keep on refreshing my shopping cart page to see if any items would free themselves up. This happens if someone decides not to purchase the item in question and lets it go, or if they suffer the same Internet mishap I did. All's fair in love, war and Double 11.
I went to bed still buzzing from the sustained rush of adrenaline, and woke up the next day refreshed and ready for round two. Double 11 wasn't over yet, and I still needed those warm winter socks.
The author is a Canadian living in Beijing