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Singles Day 2022: Everything brands need to know about the largest e-commerce festival
October 13, 2022
Singles Day (aka Double Eleven or 11.11) is now the world’s largest annual e-commerce festival. Evolving from a small promotional shopping period in China back in 2009, it has become an international shopping bonanza for hundreds of thousands of retailers, eclipsing its closest rival, Black Friday.
Despite a dulled rate of sales growth during the pandemic, the festival continues to grow year on year. In 2021, Alibaba reported total sales of US$84.5bn, up 8.5% from 2020. Compared to the 26% increase that was seen between 2019 and 2020 this seems modest, but still takes first place for retail event of the year.
In this article, we discuss how brands and retailers can prepare for Singles Day - especially amidst sustainability concerns.
The sustainability question
In 2020, Alibaba announced the addition of a pre-event shopping period starting on November 1st that focused on new brands, products and global exclusive items, giving retailers the opportunity to increase their returns during the festival.
In 2021, Alibaba also placed an emphasis on sustainability, using their gala presentations to highlight charity initiatives and their own sustainability efforts rather than the frenzy of sales. The group also highlighted energy-efficient products and issued vouchers to incentivise shoppers to buy products for “an environmentally-friendly lifestyle”. Excess packaging was also addressed by Alibaba’s logistics branch, which opened recycling stations. President Xi has pledged that China will reach carbon neutrality by 2060, raising questions about how events such as 11.11 can pivot towards responsible consumption and safeguard their existence in the future.
The shift in sustainability messaging came during a renewed focus in political messaging on “common prosperity”. This policy initiative discourages the genre of excessive consumption that is encouraged by retail campaigns such as 11.11. The format of the festival has been focused on discounts, making it unlikely that consumer mindsets during this time will reflect political targets. Kantar recently reported in their Sustainability Sector Index 2022 that only 35% of consumers who are struggling with the cost of living actively seek out companies and brands that offer ways to offset their environmental impact.
Livestream content has dominated in previous years, allowing customers to engage with the seller and ask questions in real-time about all manner of products and services, from makeup to air conditioner units. However, the way in which this format is used is changing following the downfall of China’s leading livestreamers since 2021. Scandals affected top influencers including the famous ‘Lipstick King’ Austin Li Jiaqi, and have left emerging beauty brands wondering how they can secure their position in the Chinese market and what sort of content will drive sales going forward. It is expected that livestreaming content will stay prominent in 2022, but KOLs and company executives are taking the reins.
The metaverse is also likely to remain a top content feature this year. In 2021, Tmall hosted a “11.11 Metaverse Art Exhibition” that featured limited edition branded NFTs from Burberry, Coach and Longines. There was also a “metaverse symphony”, conducted by an avatar of Beethoven, and featuring musicians that played NFT instruments from brands, such as Coca-Cola drums, which shoppers could purchase.
Alibaba has taken a test-and-learn approach to metaverse marketing, prioritizing speed over perfection. In May, the company launched a metaverse shopping centre just before the 618 festival. Around this time, there were also a series of major covid lockdowns in China, making consumer interest in the metaverse mall a necessity as much as a novelty.
The key attraction for 11.11 has always been the steep discounts offered to shoppers. This year we expect to see an increase in strategic bargain hunters who are planning their purchases ahead of time, whether it be for practical purposes or thinking ahead to gifting for the holiday season.
In PwC’s 2022 Global Consumer Insights Survey, it was reported that China’s monthly retail sales slowed between March and May after an initial rebound in Q1. The 618-shopping festival recorded negligible sales growth in June 2022 compared to June 2021 (RMB582.6bn and RMB 578.5bn respectively). As a shopping festival started by JD.com, 618 is an important indicator for sales predictions for 11.11 later in the year.
PwC’s report also surveyed Chinese consumers about their planned expenditure, and with the exception of groceries, Chinese consumers reported spending less of discretionary items in response to inflation. However, Chinese consumers have also become more frequent shoppers, both online and in-store. Increased frequency and lower amounts suggest generally more cautious purchasing behavior.
The increased length of the festival period is making it necessary for brands to adjust their advanced content strategy rather than focusing their marketing efforts on one single day. Laying the groundwork early and planting seeds of product deals/exclusives is key to garnering as much shopper attention at possible. The usual flurry of deals and content encouraged impulse buying, but with consumers feeling more cost-conscious, brands need to take a more strategic approach to nurturing lasting engagement.