Singles Day started as an anti-Valentine’s Day celebration in the 1990s when students at Nanjing University started celebrating their singledom. In a country where it is estimated that one in four Chinese men in their late 30s will never have married by 2030, Singles Day was meant to glorify being a bachelor. November 11 was picked as the date because 11.11 resembles 4 solitary bare sticks.
In 2009 Alibaba saw an opportunity and took over the day as an excuse for people to splurge on gifts for themselves. It launched “Double 11” deals when online shopping was starting to become popular and made around $7 million in the first year. The following year sales almost quadrupled and Alibaba trademarked Singles Day.
Since then, the Singles Day sale has become an enormous event. Running for 24 hours on November 11 each year, it is much larger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
This Singles Day Alibaba made a total of $30.8 billion worth of sales. The combined gross merchandise volume of Alibaba and JD.com, the other leading e-commerce player, topped $53 billion.
To put it into perspective, Amazon recorded $7.9 billion online sales on Cyber Monday, according to Adobe Analytics, and $6.22 billion on Black Friday. It took Amazon a couple of days to achieve a fraction of the sales figures that Alibaba hit in just hours on Singles Day.
So why has Singles Day become so big? And what does its size mean for mobile companies running in China and planning for 2019? Let’s find out.
Why has Singles Day become so big
Singles Day has grown rapidly in China for a number of reasons. The first of those is that it has become a genuine event in the domestic annual calendar that consumers actively look out for.
The shopping holiday launched with a Eurovision-style opening ceremony which included Chinese superstars. The four-hour star-studded countdown attracts hundreds of millions of viewers every year. The festival is concluded with a glitzy Global Shopping Festival Gala announcing the final sales figures of the event.
Within this framework, it’s unsurprising that Singles Day hype can be generated so successfully. This year, Alibaba generated over a billion dollars in revenue 90 seconds after it opened its Singles Day sale live on stage.
However, its size can’t be attributed to a glamorous TV showcase alone. Instead, the real reason for Singles Day’s growth is the way it has expanded beyond its core intended audience.
First, Singles Day has been embraced by the wider Chinese population irrespective of their relationship status.
Bachelors and couples alike use the discounted holiday to indulge in luxury items for themselves. They also buy gifts for friends and family or even buy everyday items in bulk such as toilet paper or makeup. This provides a solid basis for widespread growth, bringing in consumers from all backgrounds to the sales.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Singles Day is expanding beyond China’s borders. “Countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and South Korea saw major spikes in mobile ad spending leading up to Singles’ Day along with China, the birthplace of the shopping festival,” said Alex Khan, Smaato’s APAC managing director. “This indicates that Singles’ Day is catching on in several markets in the region.”
What does Singles Day’s growth mean for marketers?
As a result of Singles Day’s expansion, enormous numbers of brands from across the world are circling the date in the calendar and timing campaigns to hit consumers during the period.
More than 180,000 brands participated in Singles Day 2018, with over 40% of consumers making purchases from international brands. 230 countries and regions completed transactions with Japan, USA, South Korea, Australia and Germany being the top-selling countries outside of China.
Crucially, this means that companies across the world will have to join in with Singles Day soon. Whether it is down to the growing influence of the Chinese diaspora or Singles Day’s global appeal (there are singletons around the world, after all), it has the potential to eclipse the big November sales days in the West.
“I would predict that (the) Singles Day festival will eventually go global at a mass scale, as Black Friday ties in with America’s Thanksgiving traditions and cannibalizes retailers’ holiday sales,” said Tiffany Lung, a retail analyst of Hong Kong-based research and tech firm Tofugear.
This means that marketers working with brands must prepare for Singles Day in the future to have a chance of tapping into this invaluable day of spending.
How can brands prepare for Singles Day in China on mobile and beyond?
The key to marketing success on Singles Day isn’t about dropping prices. Instead, Lung argues that sales are driven through “retail experiences, not prices.”
In contrast to Black Friday or Cyber Monday – where slashed prices are king – China celebrates Singles Day with a fun and social experience through games and entertainment.” Consumers vote, play games to win special offers, engage in interactive treasure hunts, and shake their phones to earn credits and reveal deals on the day.
This makes smartphones an essential conduit through which marketers and brands can reach consumers.
Partly, that’s down to habit and audience size. Shopping in China is primarily done through mobile phones. Alibaba’s mobile monthly user figure is close to 700 million – that’s almost the entirety of the European population.
A whole 98% of users access the internet via their mobile phones and 451 predicts that China will be the first country whose online spending will exceed $1 trillion with mobile devices as its primary gateway. This means it is the first port of call for anyone looking to sell in China.
However, mobile matters in China because marketers and brands can tap into a huge audience in a number of personalised ways.
For example, Taobao, owned by the conglomerate Alibaba, is the most downloaded dedicated shopping app. It provides a personalised shopping experience, optimised by big-data analytics. These one-stop apps concentrate all of a consumer’s habits within a single app and as a result, Alibaba can target advertising to its users incredibly well.
And the effectiveness of targeted advertising continues outside of Taobao too. Mobile advertisers in China are spending big on Singles Day with increases of up to 48% according to Smaato.
Expenditure on the day itself rose by more than 50% above average, they concluded after analysing data from billions of mobile ad impressions served on its exchange in the month leading up to Singles Day.
This shows that marketers are able to bet big – and effectively – on Singles Day as an opportunity for generating returns in China and beyond.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday remain big opportunities for marketers in the West. But if you’re looking to reach users across China and South East Asia in November, Singles Day is a much better (and bigger) opportunity to reach them in the immediate short term.
Furthermore, we think that Singles Day is only likely to get bigger in the future. As China’s influence on the global market grows, Singles Day’s universal appeal gets clearer and its experience led shopping experience becomes apparent, it could gain traction amongst consumers quickly – transforming the market with it.