Chinese singles day

Chinese Singles Day: the biggest retail opportunity on the planet


11th November marks Chinese Singles Day, the world's biggest 24-hour shopping event. And it's not just Chinese brands that should be excited about it.

For western brands, the day presents a valuable opportunity to drive sales and significant revenue. In 2020, the case for getting involved in the big day is even stronger. Here's why.

What is Singles Day?

First promoted in 2009 by Chinese online retail market Alibaba, Singles Day encourages 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, with many shoppers eagerly waiting to make big purchases until the day in the hope of deep discounts.

The world's biggest online retail event 

Last year, Singles Day sales activity totalled US$38.4bn (+26% YoY). That's more than 2.5 times Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined.

For up and coming brands, Singles Day can account for 25% of their entire annual sales.

In normal circumstances, Chinese Singles Day is the biggest 24-hour retail event in the world. Add a global pandemic into the mix – complete with tight travel restrictions – and pent-up demand for brands around the world is expected to reach record levels.

Trailblazing innovative retail experiences

Underpinning the buying bonanza is a mobile-first, cross-channel marketing ecosystem. 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, letting shoppers experience and instantly buy products on their mobiles.

In 2018, the online retailer took 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.”

In 2019, the ecommerce giant presented exclusive offers via livestreaming on its Tmall platform. More than 17,000 brands and celebrity personalities, including Kim Kardashian West, promoted products.

This year, Alibaba expects 250,000 brands and 800 million shoppers to participate.

More and more brands are getting in on the action, including luxury names that typically shun seasonal promotions. Premium brands such as Prada, Cartier and Balenciaga now all feature Double 11 in their marketing and ecommerce calendars.

The great international retail opportunity

Every year, more retailers and marketplaces beyond China get involved with Singles Day. For western brands ready to get in on the action, there's significant value to tap into.

The pandemic has given way to what experts are calling 'revenge spending': consumers splurging after months of restrictions and being unable to enjoy international shopping trips. The appetite to splash out is undeniably there. Earlier this year in April, Hermès flagship store in Guangzhou reopened and reached $2.7 million in sales in a single day.

And this appetite among Chinese buyers is particularly prominent when it comes to British brands, from luxury labels like Burberry to everyday high street fare such as Clark’s.

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."

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.

There's undoubtedly great opportunity in Singles Day for western brands. But to capture a share of the Chinese market, these businesses must adapt to the 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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