Alibaba rakes in $4.9bn by midday with 'Chinese Singles Day' promotion - should UK retailers be joining the action?

Chinese Singles Day – a bit of a local twist on Valentine’s Day – dawned today (11 November), with Alibaba among the retailers cashing in on the huge commercial benefits surrounding the celebrations.

The e-commerce giant hoovered up $2bn (£1.26bn) in sales within a single hour of its annual ‘Singles Day’ promotion – a figure which rose to $4.9bn (£3.09) by midday.

Although Chinese Singles Day is yet to be replicated in the UK, with the likes of House of Fraser now under Chinese ownership, The Drum spoke to retail analysts and experts to ask what the future potential might be for the UK retail landscape in capitalising on marketing opportunities surrounding Singles Day.

David McCorquodale, UK head of retail at KPMG

Singles Day (named because of 1111) started in China and references the martial status. It started as a bachelor’s day but has been embraced by both sexes over the past 20 years. It’s a bit of a local twist on our Valentine’s Day.

The same way Amazon pioneered Black Friday and others, like John Lewis and Dixons, followed suit, Alibaba pioneered Chinese Single’s Day. They’ve made it what it is because they have the market share but that doesn’t mean others aren’t playing in it.

Why is it now just instantly happened in the UK? Within the UK, November 11 is a difficult date, it’s remembrance day, not particularly wise to flush it out here.

Black Friday has only really been in the UK for four years and started with Amazon flicking a switch on discounts. Asda were the next to really pick up on it in the UK, and they’re American owned.

They had a presence in the UK and so Black Friday made sense. But I would doubt Alibaba would suddenly start targeting Chinese people in the UK with Singles Day.

Perhaps in subtle way in a couple of year’s time one might see House of Fraser, which is now Chinese owned, throwing something to attract their Chinese communities within the UK.

The bigger opportunity is for British retailers, which are already selling to the Chinese market, to ensure that they’re picking up on local customers and making a good go of it.

Cath Kidson have a good Chinese operation so why wouldn’t they look at developing products aimed at the Chinese consumer on this day. It’s too big a trend to ignore.

Advice: Know what the local customs are in the countries you’re trading in and get your supply chains ready for them.

Andrew McClelland, chief operations & policy officer, IMRG

Localisation is a key element of success when branching out into any market. Many businesses have set up successful e-commerce in new territories without localising but additional performance gains are made when doing so.

Even in home markets this is daily ‘bread and butter’ activities for marketing teams looking to get closer to their customers. International adds additional dimensions but these are only what are taken for granted in the home market.

Language is the most obvious but page lay-out, product descriptions, imagery and payment methods being the most obvious. However, local market conditions and expectations also play a major role.

These might be commercially or culturally driven. Black Friday being the most obvious commercially driven event, now imported to the UK from the US. At the same time, religious holidays bring new significance and challenge to cross border trade, with sensitivities needing to be observed whilst commercial benefit being of major interest. Cultures also present different ‘occasions’.

Singles Day in China being a good example. A major commercial opportunity as activity is driven around gifting in what is becoming the most important market globally.

UK retailers trading into China do tap into these opportunities but there is probably a more widespread need amongst the retail industry to understand when these events are held, what customer expectations are held and how they impact wider purchasing patterns

Simon Hathaway, president & global head of retail experience, Cheil

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have emerged as two of the key retail dates of the year, but their combined sales of $2bn are dwarfed by Singles Day on 11 November. It is the biggest day in retail in the world worth $8bn in ecommerce sales last year.

Singles Day was dreamed up in the early Nineties by students at Nanjing University as an antidote to feelings of being left out by traditional couple-focused events such as Valentine’s Day. On Singles Day, they treat themselves with an orgy of spending, helped by retailers who now recognise the power of such events.

It’s easy to sneer at such ‘Hallmark holidays’ that are often created or indulged for the commercial gratification of brands and retailers, but they serve a purpose for both consumers and retailers.

Shoppers are provided with permission to buy, usually at great discount, items that they have coveted for some time. Retailers can use it to discount remaindered stock, shift huge volumes of seasonal items, and give consumers the opportunity to trial ecommerce shopping for the first time. Singles Day has become the natural route for Chinese consumers dipping their toes on-line.

Opportunities for UK retailers / brands

This year Alibaba is turning Singles Day into a worldwide event by offering more than one million items to consumers outside China. It is also using it as a gateway event for companies trying to get into the Chinese market, such as Costco, Juicy Couture and Nissen. Newly minted global logistics deals will ease the movement of goods.

Connected agile consumers are taking control of their own shopping habits and looking beyond the traditional high street to more relevant shopping experiences, whether that’s ecommerce, mobile commerce or social commerce. The key is to make all channels shoppable.

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