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Singles' Day: How brands can cut through the noise next time around

Data is the answer to the future of Singles Day

Over the past few years Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, has turned Singles Day from an anti-Valentine's Day for single people in China, into one of the world’s biggest online shopping days.

This year’s event, which took place last Friday, saw consumers spend a record $18bn with the retailer, an increase of 32% on last year. To put that into perspective, Amazon’s Prime Day event in July grew by 60% this year, and still estimated to have only taken around $2.5bn.

This is no longer a home-grown occasion, as the appearance of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and David Beckham at the televised gala event to kick off the shopping extravaganza, demonstrated.

The retail giant has huge international ambitions too. As their CMO recently commented, 11.11 is “a lot of our long-term strategy for internationalisation and upgrade consumption. It is a lot to do with creating a platform for global brands.”

While the likes of Sainsbury’s, Burberry and Waitrose, sell to the burgeoning Chinese market via Alibaba’s web platform Tmall, there is clearly a huge opportunity for more UK retailers to get involved in this growing shopping peak.

To compete, retailers will need to focus on quickly collecting the right data, bringing it together across their channels and then using it to create relevant experiences for each and every shopper. Here is some advice for any brand thinking about getting involved in this peak.

Understand the shopper mindset

Many brands collect huge amounts of customer data, but it doesn’t automatically mean they understand their customers.

The challenge during peak periods like Singles Day, is bringing past and live data together seamlessly and quickly to create an accurate picture of each customer and their journey – and then using this to personalise their experience, across every channel.

For those retailers and platforms, such as Alibaba, who have collected years worth of data, providing their customers with targeted, personalised shopping experiences that present tailored product ranges, messaging and discounts should be a natural next step.

Not every retailer has the luxury of having this data, however. Western retailers should think about how they can leverage what little they might already have on overseas shoppers to their site, but also surface questions and surveys at key points in the shopping experience to work out who the visitor is and what they want right now. Understanding the context of a shopping experience will enable retailers to influence that shopping ‘moment’.

Power of urgency

Segmenting and targeting customers based on what you know allows brands to create hyper-personal, sophisticated experiences which are designed to nudge their customers to buy.

With consumers chalking up $1bn of sales in less than five minutes on Friday, creating urgency is a powerful tool to deploy. Use countdown clocks and sales timers to build anticipation, stoking up a fear of missing out (FOMO) amongst customers and encouraging them to act quickly once the sale starts.

Taking advantage of how customers are influenced by their peers (social proof) is another potent way to turn browsers into paying customers, particularly when tapping into the Chinese consumer mindset. If shoppers are able to see what others are buying, they often imitate that behaviour. Doing this in real-time can have a huge impact on sales during peak periods.

Predict a shopper’s next move

Machine learning is also playing an increasingly important role in targeting shoppers during peaks such as Singles Day, giving brands the capability to automatically identify underperforming customer segments. Retailers can then focus on changing the behaviour of these customers through a variety of tactics, in order to take advantage of the opportunity and increase sales.

For example, machine learning might automatically identify that a British retailer has high traffic from China, but lower conversion than expected. The retailer can segment these visitors into Mandarin and English speakers, then survey visitors to discover whether the English speakers are ex-pats or holiday makers. It can then ensure that the right product and messaging is sent to each of these groups to encourage them to purchase.

Think about next year now

Successful retailers will already have one eye on Singles Day 2017 and be capturing feedback and data which helps them plan for future peaks. With some 12,000 international brands participating in this year’s event, getting cut through will require retailers to begin planning ahead now.

Take product sizing, for example, which can often cause confusion for international shoppers. Through feedback and analysing overseas visitor data now, brands can identify any issues with the sizing metrics that are used and correct them. Segmenting customers according to location will enable them to fix it for that particular group going forward and ensure they are delighting them by Singles day 2017.

With Alibaba’s ambitions to make Singles Day as big a shopping event as Christmas, retailers can no longer shy away from the opportunity it offers. As is inevitable with any shopping peak, however, it’s now very noisy. The only way brands and retailers will cut through is by focusing on better understanding the mindset, behaviour, intentions and preferences of consumers shopping on 11th November.

Your data can provide all of these answers.

Graham Cooke is founder and chief executive of Qubit.