Move over, Black Friday. There’s another retail juggernaut hot on the lips of marketers across the world: Chinese Singles’ Day.
Taking place on November 11, Singles’ Day is a valuable opportunity to drive major sales and revenue for Chinese brands and western retailers. 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 November 11 was chosen due to its single numbers (11/11... get it?).
Singles’ Day appeals to a broader spectrum of consumers than shopaholic singletons. The entire Chinese nation now celebrates it as an excuse to treat themselves, with shoppers eagerly waiting until the day to make big discounted purchases.
It’s massive – and it’s only getting bigger
Last year, Singles’ Day was extended from a 24-hour shopping event to a full 11 days, with Alibaba racking up $74.1bn in sales as a result (almost double the figure from 2019). That’s more than 2.5 times Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined.
For up-and-coming brands, Singles’ Day can even account for 25% of their entire annual sales.
Given the massive sales-generating potential of the event, it’s no wonder more and more retailers 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 the day in their marketing and e-commerce calendars.
What Singles’ Day teaches us about innovative retail experiences
Chinese Singles’ Day is an indicator of what the global retail landscape could look like in the (potentially not too distant) future.
Underpinning the buying bonanza is a mobile-first, cross-channel marketing ecosystem. Innovations such as contactless stores, experiential pop-ups and AR and QR code technologies aren’t considered trailblazing retail trends for early adopters in China. They’re the mainstream norm.
Alibaba’s desire to define the future of retail is best exemplified in its Freshippo supermarkets. Two years before Amazon Go launched its automated grocery store, Freshippo had opened in Shanghai in 2016. Based around a smartphone app, the store lets shoppers scan produce to gain more information about products – their freshness, nutritional value and recipe ideas. Once they’ve filled their baskets, shoppers can pay without a phone or wallet by using facial recognition machines.
In Alibaba’s other smart stores, VR and AR technologies let shoppers try on products virtually, browse virtual shelves to find the right color or size, and get help from robotic assistants.
For Singles’ Day in 2020, the e-commerce giant kicked things off in extravagant style with a gala that had celebrities in attendance and a headline performance from Katy Perry. After a dramatic countdown to midnight to mark the start of 11/11, the company reported that total sales for the event reached over $56bn within the first 30 minutes.
Livestreamed e-commerce, where presenters show off products to their audiences to purchase directly, has recently become a lucrative event staple. In this year’s Singles’ Day pre-sale, one of China’s top livestreamers (known as ‘Lipstick King’) sold an unbelievable $1.7bn worth of products to his 250 million viewers in just 12 hours.
But Chinese retail isn’t just about cutting-edge tech and forward-thinking experiences.
“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 China. “It isn’t about advertising and price promotions.”
Why your brand needs to get in on the action
Every year, more western retailers and marketplaces get involved with Singles Day. Most Brits used to view Black Friday as a day reserved for American shoppers to fight over flat-screen TVs... until it traveled across the pond in 2010 and we joined in the (questionable) fun.
British brands remain popular with Chinese consumers due to their reputation for quality and quintessential Britishness. These consumers are even willing to pay 8% more for British-made products. Burberry always goes down well with Chinese shoppers; the brand seems to have clocked this trend and released a limited-edition scarf (in a physical form as well as an NFT) ahead of Singles’ Day.
Royal Mail previously 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.”
As Maria Prados, vice-president of Global Retail at Worldpay, concludes: “Combined with the rising purchasing power of the Chinese consumer, the pound’s performance could mean big bucks for UK brands on November 11 – 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.”
Alibaba’s marketplace predicted that there was 14m deals up for grabs on its platform this year. In fact, Alibaba rolled out its ‘Zhongchao’ marketing campaign in anticipation of the event, which literally translates as ‘planting grass’ and refers to consumers’ predisposition of wanting to buy products owned by friends.
Those that got involved with Singles’ Day took advantage of the amount of brand-sharing that occured through referral marketing channels to turn these recommendations into lasting growth, amplify marketing stacks and hit critical KPIs.
Olivia Cox, junior copywriter at Mention Me.