Singles Day: What Should US Retailers Know About the Chinese Shopping Day?

November 11, 2015

Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The biggest online shopping event in the world is due to take place today. And it’s all because of China’s singletons. Singles Day began as a day for single people – or the “bare sticks” symbolized by the four number ones in the date of 11 November (11/11).

Last year, Singles Day sales reached $9 billion and made e-commerce history, outperforming Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. So if Singles Day has passed you by, perhaps it’s time to put it on your radar.

What Is Singles Day?

Singles Day was dreamt up by Chinese students in the 1990s. They decided to set up a kind of anti-Valentine’s Day where people could celebrate their single status by buying small gifts for one another.

In 2009, however, Chinese marketplace giant Alibaba saw the potential. Alibaba trademarked the day and turned it into an online discount-shopping event. Initially just 27 merchants participated and $5 million was spent. But the online event swiftly caught on ­– over a third of China’s population have now shopped on Singles Day.

While some deals are still traditionally tailored to the unattached (such as single travel tickets and boyfriend pillows), there is an increasing number of everyday items up for grabs – from home décor to detergent.

Startling Singles Day Stats

  • In 2013, Singles Day overtook Cyber Monday’s $1.46 billion in sales by 8:42 a.m. Over the entire day, consumers spent $5.6 billion — an 80% growth in sales compared with 2012.
  • 2014 then blew 2013 out of the water, with $100 million spent in the first three minutes and over $9 billion spent overall — representing a 61% increase on 2013.
  • 5% of sales came from customers using mobile devices in 2014 – so no wonder the IDC predicts that China will soon become the world’s mobile internet heartland.

Why Has Singles Day Been Such a Success?

China has a gender imbalance, largely due to the country’s one-child policy (which will soon come to an end). That means there are a lot of single people in the country – a demographic that favors a day celebrating single status.

Add to this the fact that the Chinese e-commerce market overall is set to grow to $1 trillion in the next one to two years, with many rural areas suddenly finding their online feet. Plus, the Chinese government is reducing tariffs on select consumer goods to spur consumption.

Last year, the numbers were also boosted by a pre-sales initiative, with merchants advertising their prices from 15 October onwards and taking deposits for items but releasing them only on the shopping day itself.

The Outlook for 2015

The prediction is that even more people will be shopping on Singles Day 2015. In fact, KPMG forecast that Singles Day this year will be as much as 50% bigger, with more than 40,000 vendors expected to take part. This growth illustrates the incredible buying power of the Chinese consumer and the increasing prominence of the date on the Chinese calendar.

What Does Singles Day Mean for US Retailers?

A recent China’s Connected Consumers report revealed that Chinese consumers are keen to look beyond local vendors for international bargains. Alibaba has widened its reach outside Mainland China with sales expanding worldwide, courtesy of AliExpress and Tmall Global.

This year, more than 5,000 international brands are signed up to participate, and British retailers with operations in China are poised to take advantage on 11/11. This represents a real opportunity for US e-commerce companies to tap into an incredibly lucrative new market.

Tmall Global will also play a big part in Singles Day this year, allowing brands without a physical presence in China to sell online to Chinese consumers.

And there could also be potential to capitalize here at home. While Singles Day is still relatively unknown in the US, awareness is growing. Retailers could steal a march on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales by running Singles Day sales promotions.

Could you sell to Chinese consumers? For an in-depth look at what selling to the Chinese market involves, download our Understanding the Chinese Consumer eBook.