The rise of China’s Singles' Day into an e-commerce calendar linchpin is in-keeping with many of the nation’s cultural phenomena of the digital age: astonishing in its pace of growth and unprecedented in scale.
With just over a month to go until this year's event, we take a closer look at what led to Singles' Day becoming a global marketing juggernaut in less than a decade
What is Singles' Day?
The day was originally conceived in 2009 by Chinese online retail market Alibaba, notionally aimed at the single population to celebrate their freedom….by buying themselves stuff (of course). It falls on 11 November, significant in its series of single ‘one’ digits (11/11... get it?).
In reality, its consumer appeal has proven to be much broader. Singles' Day has been successfully angled at the entire nation - basically as an excuse to treat yourself. A day to unashamedly celebrate ‘me’. Which, when you’re talking about a population the size of China’s, equates to a retail bonanza of stratospheric proportions.
Year on year, Singles Day' has triggered a consumer buying frenzy, as desirable products are offered at once-a-year, exclusive 24-hour limited discounts, marketed in ever inventive and compelling methods.
The biggest online retail event on the planet
Some statistics to put the scale of Singles' Day into perspective:
- Total sales generated on Alibaba from Singles' Day 2017 were double those of US sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2016 combined - and more than 10 times the sales generated of Amazon’s Prime Day 2017
- On Singles' Day 2016, Alibaba’s $18 billion in sales over 24 hours, was almost the same as the whole of Spain’s Ecommerce annual sales that year.
- $1 billion worth of orders were placed in the first five minutes of Singles' Day 2017
- 90% of the total 1.48 billion payments processed through AliPay, came from mobile devices
In other words, when people say that Singles' Day is the biggest online retail event on the planet, it’s not even a close run thing. It’s incontrovertibly head and shoulders above what any other global Ecommerce event can muster.
Trailblazing innovative retail experiences
Underpinning the buying bonanza, is a mobile-first, cross-channel marketing ecosystem that has in its own right become a point of admiration among the rest of the world’s Ecommerce players.
Innovations such as mobile digital wallets and commerce platform, experiential pop-up retail stores and screens using AR and QR code technologies: unlike in the West, for the Chinese these are not emergent trends in retail that a few early adopter-types are experimenting with. They are the mainstream norm.
In 2017, Alibaba set up 60 physical pop-up stores across 12 cities in China, and also converted 100,000 permanent stores into smart stores, where shoppers were provided with immersive experiences of various products and seamless options for instantaneous purchasing via mobiles.
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 solidifying its pre eminent position in the global retail calendar. And brands are increasingly poised to get a piece of the cake.
The great international retail opportunity
Singles' Day represents a huge potential boon for western brands, for a couple of reasons. First of all, 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 demonstrating a distinct Anglophile streak.
A report by Royal Mail found that over half of China's online shoppers buy from Britain. Mei Chen, head of international business development at Alibaba, enthuses about the fact: "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. In the wake of a couple of turbulent years for the economy, so called ‘Brexit bargain hunters’ are leaping at the chance to stock up on items at unprecedented lowly prices.
Reported engagement and sales, speak for themselves. Last year, Top Shop’s online revenue spiked by a staggering 900% on Singles' Day. Whittard of Chelsea reported that their sales revenue on Singles' Day from Alibaba, sold more tea than its best performing UK store sells in a fortnight.. 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 it’s not the low-hanging fruit it might first appear to be. Western brands interested in the Chinese market, undoubtedly need to adopt 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 are well prepared. To turn browsers into buyers, it is essential to tailor the online shopping experience to local tastes. For Chinese consumers, this means focusing on your mobile proposition.”