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Move over Valentine’s Day, the singles want some fun, too! China’s Singles’ Day on 11 November (11/11 – all the singles!) was originally conceived by a group of college bachelors who wanted a dedicated holiday to celebrate their singledom. Then in 2009, spotting an opportunity, China’s leading e-commerce marketplace Alibaba began marketing Singles’ Day as a special sales event. Since then, it's become an annual shopping bonanza where it’s not unusual for sales to reach ten times that of an average shopping day in China.
So, how can your e-commerce business take a slice of this very lucrative pie?
Perhaps you’re already selling to Chinese buyers through an online marketplace such as Amazon or Alibaba, or maybe you ship internationally to customers there via your own e-commerce website. Either way, now is the time to prepare. Here’s how…
Singles’ Day sales easily eclipse Black Friday sales – in fact, the event is 2.5 times larger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined!1 Last year, online sales on JD.com and Alibaba – the country’s leading e-commerce sites – reached US$139 billion2, setting a new record. Perhaps unsurprising when you consider the country has a population of over 1.4 billion3 and an online shopping penetration rate of 81.6%4.
The bonanza is no longer constricted to just China, either. One analysis tracked over 100 US brands offering Singles’ Day events in 20215.
China’s economy, like much of the world, is feeling the impact of inflation. As a result, many analysts forecast slower sales growth this Singles’ Day. Retailers who can offer highly competitive deals will be in the best position.
As the largest e-commerce platform in China, you’ve probably heard of Alibaba7, a B2B business connecting wholesale exporters in China with countries around the world. The bit you should know about is Tmall Global8, Alibaba’s dedicated B2C platform specifically set up for foreign businesses. It allows cross-border sellers to build virtual storefronts and ship products to Chinese customers without the need for a physical entity in the country or a Chinese business license. You can also accept payments in your local currency. Today, there are more than 29,000 brands from 87 countries and regions across 5,800 categories on Tmall Global9.
The warmup period to Singles’ Day begins in late October. Alibaba has announced its Tmall Singles’ Day shopping event will begin presale at 8 pm on October 24, with the first selling period starting on October 31 and the second one on November 10. The presales are designed to boost revenue and to allow consumers to pay deposits to secure items and make a final payment before the big day.
According to a survey of Tmall Global shoppers10, the leading reasons they buy from Western brands are:
Important information to consider when you’re creating your Singles’ Day marketing messaging!
Data from China’s leading search engine, Baidu, showed that searches for price comparisons on Singles’ Day 2021 increased +28% over 202011. Questions regarding the validity of cheaper products were also trending, with consumers cautious not to fall for Singles’ Day “tricks”.
“The Chinese approach starts with thinking about content, information and knowledge that could be engaging and shared,” says Danielle Jin, chief marketing officer for Visa Greater China12. “It isn’t about advertising and price promotions.”
Chinese consumers have come to expect innovations like augmented reality and QR code technology as the norm, and will be more likely to part their money at stores which offer them.
Though relatively new in the West, livestreaming has been hugely popular in China for years. Customers enjoy being able to learn about a product in-depth, whilst for brands, this engagement leads to greater conversions.
The challenge for overseas brands is to find a video hosting platform with the relevant clearance in China. Instead, they could focus on ensuring their product listings feature plenty of high-res photos, video tutorials and how-to guides, whilst being quick to respond to customer queries on social media.
Despite Singles’ Day being associated with excessive consumption, last year, Alibaba turned its focus towards sustainability by partnering with 14 brands to promote greener production. “Tmall is collaborating with brands in taking a bigger step towards carbon emission reduction, not only because it wants to pursue carbon neutrality, but also because it is being responsive to consumer choices,” said Zheng Liqing, Tmall’s head of consumer marketing13.
JD.com, Alibaba’s main competitor, also made a lot of noise about its commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
Optimize your e-commerce website for mobile. 90% of Singles’ Day purchases are made on mobile devices,14 so you need to ensure customers have an easy, fast and intuitive experience – otherwise they’ll abandon their carts.
Fast shipping is your ace card. Chinese consumers may be deterred from buying from overseas brands as they think their orders will be delayed. By partnering with DHL, you can offer customers Express international delivery. Just be sure to highlight it on your homepage to incentivize shoppers.
Monitor your inventory closely. If something sells out, you need to be ready to quickly pivot to promote another item instead.
The fun doesn’t stop after Singles’ Day! Peak Season is upon us, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas still to come too. For more advice and insights to help you maximize every sales opportunity, check out our Peak Season E-commerce Toolkit.
1 – The Drum, November 2018
2 – CNBC, November 2021
3 – Worldometer, October 2022
4 – Statista, published March 2022
5 - Protocol, November 2021
6 – Daxue Consulting, November 2021
7 - Alibaba
8 - Tmall Global
9 – Tmall Global LinkedIn, accessed October 2022
10 – Digital Commerce, June 2022
11 – Daxue Consulting, November 2021
12 - Danielle Jin, The Drum, November 2021
12 – Zheng Liqing, Radii, November 2021
13 - Shopify, September 2021