Chinese Singles' Day

Chinese Singles' Day: the biggest ecommerce retail opportunity on the planet


Your brand may be yet to celebrate it, but Singles' Day is a key date in the retail ecommerce calendar for Chinese consumers.

With 11th November almost here, we take a closer look at why the world's biggest retail event offers huge potential for British brands.

What is Singles' Day?

The day was originally conceived in 2009 by Chinese online retail market Alibaba, encouraging single people to celebrate their freedom by buying something for themselves. The date 11th November was chosen due to its single numbers (11/11... get it?).

In reality, Singles' Day appeals to a much broader spectrum of consumers. The entire Chinese nation now celebrates it as an excuse to treat themselves, leading to a retail bonanza of stratospheric proportions.

Singles Day' is now a consumer buying frenzy, offering one-off discounts on desirable products for just 24 hours, promoted via ever more inventive and compelling marketing.

The biggest online retail event on the planet

To put it into perspective, here's some Singles' Day statistics:

  • Singles' Day 2018 resulted in 710 million payments and 467 million parcels. That's more than double Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in 2015 combined
  • US$1 billion of sales took place in the first minute and 25 seconds of Singles' Day 2019
  • 37% of Chinese shoppers buy products using their phone, compared to the 13% global average
  • In 2018, Singles' Day transactions came from 230 countries and involved 180,000 international retailers
  • Make up brand MAC sold 3,700 Singles' Day special lipstick in just one second
  • Sales reached $30.8bn for Singles' Day 2019, up almost 20% on the previous year. 
    To say Singles' Day is the biggest online retail event on the planet is putting it lightly. No other global ecommerce event comes anywhere near matching it.

Trailblazing innovative retail experiences

Underpinning the buying bonanza is a mobile-first, cross-channel marketing ecosystem admired by the rest of the world’s ecommerce players.

Innovations like mobile digital wallets, experiential pop-up retail stores, and AR and QR code technologies aren't considered emerging retail trends for early adopters in China. They're the mainstream norm.

In 2017, Alibaba set up 60 physical pop-up stores across 12 cities in China, and converted 100,000 permanent stores into smart stores, providing shoppers with immersive experiences of products and seamless options for instantaneous purchasing via mobiles.

2018 saw the online retailer take it even further, hosting a gala shopping event in Shanghai that featured Cirque du Soleil, model Miranda Kerr and singer Mariah Carey. A dramatic countdown to midnight announced sales open, followed by a live-streamed fashion show where viewers could click on the video to immediately purchase showcased items.

Joe Nora, marketing director at Export Now, a company that specialises in China e-commerce strategy for major western brands, sums up: “The bar has definitely been raised for what you need to do to attract consumers. A static display ad is going to be overlooked.”

The ante has been raised on Singles' Day Ecommerce tactics to such a point, that some are starting to wonder where else there is left to go. Is Singles' Day already showing signs of burnout and fatigue?

We don’t think so. Singles' Day appears set to continue smashing records and maintain its prominent position in the global retail calendar. And more and more brands are getting in on the action.

The great international retail opportunity

Singles' Day presents a huge potential boon for western brands.

Firstly, consumer appetite for western products is sky high. British brands in particular, from luxury labels like Burberry to everyday high street fare such as Clark’s, hold special reverence in the hearts of many Chinese buyers.

Royal Mail reported that over half of China's online shoppers buy from Britain. Mei Chen, head of international business development at Alibaba, confirms: "There is huge demand from Chinese consumers for foreign goods, especially UK brands, which are associated with high quality, heritage and are at the forefront of fashion."

A second favourable, slightly paradoxical, factor for British retailers is the weakened British pound. Following a turbulent couple of years for the economy, so called ‘Brexit bargain hunters’ are leaping at the chance to stock up on items at unprecedented low prices.

Reported engagement and sales speak for themselves. In 2018, Topshop’s online revenue spiked by a staggering 900% on Singles' Day. Whittard of Chelsea sold more tea than its best performing UK store sells in a fortnight via Alibaba on Singles' Day. And Sainsbury’s supermarkets led the way in experimenting with online engagement techniques, using a virtual reality promotion tool on Alibaba, culminating in a bewilderingly popular 90-minute, 360-degree live broadcast of its supermarkets in London.

The great opportunity is there for all to see. But Western brands interested in the Chinese market need to adapt their approach to cater to the distinctive, mobile-dominated, ecommerce landscape of China.

As Maria Prados, VP of Global Retail at Worldpay, sums up: “Combined with the rising purchasing power of the Chinese consumer, the pound’s performance could mean big bucks for UK brands on 11 November - but only if they're well prepared. To turn browsers into buyers, it's essential to tailor the online shopping experience to local tastes. For Chinese consumers, this means focusing on your mobile proposition.”

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