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Your Essential Guide To Alibaba’s Singles’ Day

“We began with a small dream: To launch an online event,” wrote Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang in a recent blog post announcing this year’s Singles’ Day. “We didn’t expect it to magnify to today’s scale.” Quite! ‘Pfft!’ to Prime Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday — Alibaba’s Singles’ Day eclipses them all. Not just in terms of scale and reach, but with the sheer spectacle of it all too. There’s no crazier celebration of consumerism than that thrown by the juggernaut Chinese retailer.

China, of course, owns eCommerce. By 2020, it’s predicted to account for 60% of the global eCommerce market, leading some commentators to speculate that if a brand wins China, they win the world. Nothing asserts this dominance like Singles’ Day, and as the tenth annual event draws near, here’s a quick jaunt through everything you need to know about it.

Take us back to the beginning please — what’s it all about?

Singles’ Day began as a celebration of singledom at China’s Nanjing University in 1993, the date 11.11 being the perfect choice for what it represents. Alibaba adopted it in 2009, putting a commercial spin on the Chinese saying: “If you cannot be with someone you like, you can at least be with something you like.”

Is it strictly a Chinese event?

Nope. Singles’ Day is catching on internationally, with increasing traction in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Furthermore, last year’s rebrand from Singles’ Day to the ‘11.11 Global Shopping Festival’ speaks volumes of its plans for world domination.

Can we talk figures please?

Sure! Last year

  • 140,000 national and international brands participated, including P&G, Estee Lauder, Starbucks, Nike and GAP
  • 15 million products were listed, with top sellers in the wellness and baby product categories
  • 812 million orders were made, with the first being delivered 12.18 minutes after the purchase was made
  • 48 billion payments were made through AliPay

What about sales?

These figures are truly awesome. Sales in the first year hit US$7.8million. Last year they hit US$25.3 billion, making it the biggest shopping day in the world, offline or online. China sells more on 11.11 than most countries do in a year. The only countries to sell more online in a year than China sells that day are China (obviously), the US, Japan, the UK and Germany.

How do these sales compare to Amazon Prime Day?

Well, last year, Amazon Prime Day hit $2.4 billion, so do the math!

Did we hear some pretty spectacular figures around mobile?

Yup. Mobile penetration on Singles’ Day 2017 hit a record high of 90%, up 8% on 2016. For comparison, just 30% of 2017 black Friday shoppers bought on mobile. China’s strong figures can be attributed to the fact that in the last 10 years, the number of internet users has risen to 802 million, 98% of which are mobile, early adopters that the Chinese are.

Furthermore, China’s mobile payment systems are far more sophisticated than in the West. Led by popular mobile apps, AliPay and WeChat Pay, Chinese consumers go straight from cash to smartphones, skipping cards. In contrast, most Western systems depend on banks for non-cash payments, and are tied to consumer bank accounts. The Chinese systems are so quick and streamlined that paying with cash is almost unheard of. Phone-scannable QR codes also mean anyone can become a merchant, since there’s no need for hardware like card readers. Chinese consumers even use their smartphones to pay the likes of street vendors.

How big a deal is Singles’ Day for brands?

Huge. It’s not just an adjunct to their China strategy, it’s the climax of it, accounting for as much of 25% of their annual sales there. Brands spend up to eight months planning for it, with many using it as a launch pad for new products and their most creative marketing campaigns. This year, over 180,000 brands are participating, with 500,000 items available for order on Tmall (Alibaba’s B2C marketplace) since October 20th.

And what’s this we hear about ‘retail-tainment’? What’s that all about?

A hallmark of Singles’ Day is ‘retail as entertainment’, which spawned this rather grotesque new word. And Alibaba really pulls out all the stops here, running a live televised gala countdown to the event every year. This Super Bowl-style affair draws ratings of up to 200 million, features stars such as David Beckham, Nicole Kidman, Pharrell Williams, and, naturally, surprise appearances from Alibaba’s colorful and charismatic co-founder, Jack Ma. This year it takes place in Shanghai’s Mercedes Benz Arena.

Where does the retail bit come in?

It’s fully integrated in to all of it. There are live product launches, demos and contests, with customers using interactive apps to download coupons, raffle tickets, gift certificates etc., and wearing VR headsets to play games. The launch of this year’s event on October 20th saw Tmall run its annual ‘See Now Buy Now’ fashion show, which was broadcast live on 10 platforms, allowing millions to buy items on the spot and vote for their favourite looks.

And what’s this ‘New Retail’ we also keep hearing about?

Alibaba is using Singles’ Day to showcase the progress of its pioneering and game-changing ‘New Retail’ program. This began two years ago, and is all about blurring the line between online and offline through cutting edge technology. The goal of which is to be wherever its customers are no matter what they’re doing (which worries us we’ll find Jack Ma under our bed one day).

Interesting. How will this play out on Singles’ Day?

In many weird and wonderful ways. Here are just a few:

  • Digital forms of the old Chinese money-giving tradition of ‘red envelopes’ can be bought online and reimbursed in-store
  • L’Oréal China is opening temporary stores complete with AR try-on mirrors, which are connected to users’ Tmall profiles to save items, with product vending machines powered by Alipay.
  • 11 Starbucks stores are partnering with Alibaba’s food delivery service, Ele.me, to deliver beverages and boost online orders

Did we hear Jack Ma is stepping down as Chairman of the Board of Alibaba? Say it ain’t so!

Sadly, it is so. Ma, AKA ‘The Steve Jobs of China’, or, indeed, ‘The Willy Wonka of eCommerce’, as ChannelSight prefers to call him, recently announced he is stepping down, transitioning the role of Chairman to CEO Daniel Zhang in September 2019. Ma’s next move is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he’ll return to his former career as an English teacher. Perhaps he’ll dedicate himself further to philanthropy. Perhaps he’ll explore his burgeoning career as a performance artist — last year, he made his acting debut with in this kung fu short film ‘Gong Shou Dao’, and his stage debut in this epic Michael Jackson tribute. The possibilities are endless. But you can be sure of one thing, whatever his next move, it’ll be interesting.

Now you know everything there is to know about Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, learn how ChannelSight ‘Where to Buy’ technology can help your brand join the party by talking to one of our team today!

Niall Carr

Global Brand Consultant 

Niall CarrYour Essential Guide To Alibaba’s Singles’ Day

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